A South Florida family filed a lawsuit that alleges the ex-wife of hometown hero Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and two companies the couple jointly owned bilked them of almost $2 million.
The family accuses Dany Garcia-Johnson of a fraud scheme that cheated them of money they believed would give them returns on safe, low-risk investments. They said the money they lost originated from seized Cuban assets after family member Carlos Costa was killed by Cuban MiGs during the Brothers to the Rescue mission.
Carlos Costa’s mother, Mirta Costa, spoke emotionally in Spanish when reflecting on the death of her son. She and other family members collected millions in wrongful death benefits after the incident.
“As tragic as it was to receive, it was money that was going to take care of them,” said granddaughter Melisa Mendez-Chantres.
The lawsuit was filed against Garcia-Johnson, two companies she managed and the companies’ accountant. It claims the family was bilked “out of more than $1.8 million as part of an ongoing fraud scheme,” according to the lawsuit, filed Feb. 8.
“I mean, we trusted these people and we were definitely betrayed,” said Mendez-Chantres.
The family met the superstar couple after Carlos Costa’s grandson got a job working at one of the investment firms. They said the Johnsons became part of their family and showed NBC 6 pictures from times they shared together.
The family claims it gave large sums to Garcia-Johnson’s companies, more than $470,000 in one instance, and had timetables showing exactly when the money would be repaid with interest.
“The Rock” Johnson, who has not responded to numerous calls from NBC 6, is not a defendant in the lawsuit but is listed as a “co-conspirator” who jointly owned the companies his ex-wife managed and “benefited financially from the fraud.”
“We felt safe that [the money] was going to be backed up by them – especially Dwayne,” Mendez-Chantres said. “He wasn’t going to steal our money because he has his own money – he had a lot of his own money.”
The lawyers for Garcia-Johnson, the accountant and the two corporations say the allegations against their clients are completely untrue and therefore want the case thrown out.
Richard Barbara, attorney for Garcia-Johnson, said that the family’s lost money is the result of the real estate market crash and called the allegations “absurd.”
“There were a lot of people and a lot of banks that suffered as a function of what happened to the real estate market,” he said. “We feel that is the true source of what created the issues here.”
The attorney also claims that Michael Mendez, who worked with Garcia-Johnson’s investment firm for four years, was involved in the two companies.
“Any notion that it’s only a function of celebrity status – that these individuals were involved with us is just inaccurate," Barbara said.
Garcia-Johnson claims Michael Mendez “was intimately familiar with the projects at the heart of the investments,” according to a written response.
Michael Mendez denied that.
“I had no knowledge of the inner working of the finances of the company of her possibly moving money around to cover things,” he said in a phone interview.
Jane Moscowitz, the lawyer for the investment firm’s accountant, also referenced the downfall of the housing market.
“When the bubble burst, they suddenly decide to call it a fraud,” she said in a statement.
Garcia-Johnson said she contacted the Costas over the money trouble, but Mendez-Chantres said it is not true.
“She was not ever anywhere to be found,” she said. “[Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson] had too many gatekeepers to be found.”
Barbara told NBC 6 that the invested money is gone and the two corporations filed for bankruptcy.