Did This Miami Woman Get Rich Selling Real Estate — Or Scamming Covid Loans?
Before she deleted her Instagram, Daniela Rendon had 33,000 followers who watched her living a fantasy life. She posted pictures of herself lounging on yachts, riding horses, partying in Ibiza, and going out to extravagant dinners. Intermittently, she also shared posts about oceanfront Miami apartments she was selling in her career as a luxury real estate agent. “Part of selling products, you have to look good,” says Ana Uribe, a Miami realtor who has known Rendon as a colleague and friend for more than five years. “The day I met Daniela, she had Mercedes trucks, wore beautiful clothes, Valentino shoes. We live in Miami which is a jazzy, jazzy city, and we get dressed.”
Uribe and another realtor who worked with Rendon say she stood out for her integrity in a cutthroat industry. “People become competitive, and some people are sharks,” Uribe says. “’I’ve never, ever seen her doing anything where you think like, wow, you have to watch out for her, she’s gonna steal your client. It’s just never been like that.” Rendon was more interested in working as a team and helping and supporting others, Uribe adds. “She’s a very honest and trustworthy person, and very professional,” says the other realtor, who asked to remain anonymous but says she recently worked with Rendon to close a $17 million sale.
Both realtors were shocked when they heard that Rendon was facing federal charges claiming she had illegally obtained Covid-19 relief loans. In a Feb. 2 announcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida claimed Rendon, 31, used $381,000 in ill-gotten funds to pay herself, her friends, and her family members. She allegedly spent the money on a 2021 Bentley Bentayga, a luxury apartment on Biscayne Bay, cosmetic dermatology procedures, and having her designer shoes refinished. “Whatever Daniela they describe over there is not the Daniela that I know,” says the real estate agent who asked not to be named. “This surprised and hurt me so bad. She has two children.”
On Feb. 2, Rendon appeared in federal magistrate court, where she was charged with seven counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft. The most serious charges, wire fraud, carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. She was released on 10 percent of her $150,000 bond, and, according to an order signed by a judge, the payment was made by her fiancé, Eliasib Reyes. Rendon plans to plead not guilty, according to Robert Mandell, an attorney for Rendon.
On Wednesday, the government filed 20 exhibits, including 2020 payroll details of a company called Daniela Rendon PA that showed $121,480 being paid to 11 employees, including $9,000 to herself, $13,500 to an employee called Rendon Holdings, and $30,000 to Elias Reyes. Other exhibits included a 2021 Bahamas health visa ensuring Covid-19 safety while traveling, screen grabs from Rendon’s social media showing her boarding a private jet, and a Paycheck Protection Program loan application for a Delaware corporation called Reyes Aviation owned by Reyes. There’s also a 2021 lease approval by a company called Braman Motors for a Bentley Bentayga. The leasing paperwork was signed by Reyes, who works as a finance manager at Braman, according to the company’s website. Reyes did not respond to a request for comment.
A Jan. 26 grand jury indictment alleged that between 2020 and 2022, Rendon “did knowingly, and with the intent to defraud, devise…a scheme and artifice to defraud, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises.” According to the grand jury, Rendon and accomplices (whom charging documents did not name) applied for PPP and Economic Injury Disaster Relief loans using the names of two business entities: Rendon PA, a Florida LLC, and Rendon Holdings, registered in Wyoming. As part of the application process, Rendon allegedly submitted falsified IRS paperwork and misrepresented the number of employees, total revenue, monthly payroll amounts, and the cost of goods sold by the businesses. She then signed up for the payroll service ADP, according to the indictment, and issued paychecks to herself, her friends, and her family.
Mandell declined to comment on Rendon’s businesses or the government’s exhibits, saying he has not yet obtained or reviewed discovery in the case. “I will speak in generalities and say this,” he says. “I have never seen a case where the government provides details and facts that are in favor of a defendant, especially at this early phase of a case. Further, the items that you mentioned are not necessarily relevant to the elements that the government must prove before a jury can find Ms. Rendon guilty beyond and to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt.” He believes the Justice Department is targeting Rendon. “It appears to me that the government is doing its best to make an example of Ms. Rendon due to her being somewhat of a ‘public figure,’” he says. “However, facts are facts and we are yet to flush them out.”
Uribe believes Rendon was too wealthy to have scammed money from the government. She says Rendon earned her luxe lifestyle. “She works very hard and sold multimillion-dollar apartments, like when she used to sell Acqualina, which is a really high end development here on the beach. She sold the penthouse there. That is a $30 million penthouse. I mean, do people even know the commission for that? She has made over six figures on commission.”
According to both people who knew her, Rendon had multiple side businesses in addition to her real estate work. She sold clothes, they claim, and Uribe says she also sold supplements on Amazon and worked for Monat, a multilevel marketing company where she had a team of women below her selling shampoo. On Instagram, Rendon had a highlight called “Monat,” and she posted about the products on Pinterest in 2021. “She’s an influencer, so she had multiple little businesses that influencers do,” Uribe says.
As for the allegations that she used some of the money on cosmetic procedures, Uribe says Rendon was not big into plastic surgery, at least not compared to her peers. “Daniela is beautiful. She goes to the gym all the time,” Uribe says. “We all have enhanced our breasts, maybe 20 years ago. I’ve seen women that have 20 surgeries. [Daniela] has the normal thing that girls do: little enhancements. Maybe you do filler or botox because we’re getting older. That’s just like, normal.”
Covid-relief programs, designed to rush money to small businesses to keep them operating through the economically devastating pandemic lockdown, were plundered by fraudsters to a shocking extent. Experts have estimated that 10 percent — or $80 billion — of PPP loans distributed were fraudulent. Many scammers are already facing punishment: according to the Government Accountability Office, more than 1,000 people have been convicted of federal charges of defrauding Covid-19 relief programs. With hundreds of investigations ongoing, it seems like a new Covid-relief fraud charge is announced every day.
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Mandell, who has defended multiple PPP loan fraud cases, says that the government’s prosecution of such alleged crimes should be better standardized. “I find their enforcement at this juncture in these cases to be arbitrary and capricious,” he says. “I have also seen in many of these cases where the government likes to point out and make note of the ‘lifestyle’ that the defendant is living which quite often can be a red herring. If the defendant was living the same lifestyle before and after the funds, and the funds were obtained lawfully and used on legitimate expenses, then ‘lifestyle’ and Instagram photos are not relevant.”
Rendon’s arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 13.