Chief Judge Mark Thompson, of the 5th Judicial District, on Tuesday, April 1, awarded more than $100,000 in damages to Breckenridge landlord George McLaughlin for lost rental income, property damage costs and household items allegedly stolen by Tom Merino and members of his family.
Merino and his wife, Sophie, run at least three fortune-telling businesses in the High Country, with storefronts in Breckenridge, Frisco and Vail. Sophie Merino sometimes goes by the name Michelle Marks, McLaughlin said Tuesday in court.
According to court records, Merino signed a two-year lease in September 2013 to rent McLaughlin’s property off of Boreas Pass Road in Breckenridge. The lease stipulated a security deposit of $3,500 and a rental payment of $3,500 per month.
During a one-hour bench trial Tuesday in Summit County District Court, McLaughlin testified that Merino was short on his security deposit and first month’s rent in October 2013, but that he agreed to work with his renter so he could catch up.
McLaughlin never received the balance of the October rent and did not receive a payment in November, according to his testimony. The last payment McLaughlin received from his tenant was on Dec. 5, 2013, and that was still substantially short of the required amount for nearly three months of rent, McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin filed a notice to vacate, and a civil action to collect certain damages, in district court. The eviction notice was served and executed on March 6, and McLaughlin repossessed his property a day later.
McLaughlin testified Tuesday that his property was vacated in dismal condition and several items, including furniture, appliances and kitchenware, had gone missing.
During Tuesday’s trial, McLaughlin submitted 10 exhibits of evidence outlining lost income from unpaid or loss of future rent, unpaid utility bills, property damage, stolen property, court costs and other expenses. The grand total was $103,842.62.
Merino failed to appear in court to defend himself. However, Colorado law permits judges to rule on a case and make a default judgment in a defendant’s absence.
Thompson ruled in McLaughlin’s favor and awarded the full amount.
A phone call to Merino was answered by a man who identified himself as “George Merino,” Tom Merino’s son. George Merino said his father was not available to discuss the case but said the ruling was, “The stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
When asked if Tom Merino would be available at a later time to discuss the case, George said his father had “gone to Arizona about a week ago and he isn’t coming back.”
Although Tom Merino was unavailable for comment, court records show this was not his first battle in court. According to records, three eviction cases were filed in Summit County between October 2004 and April 2005 by a former tenant. Two of those cases were dismissed. An eviction was executed in the third, records stated.
Records also show two additional civil cases in Summit County, one in 2005 between Krystal Broadcasting and one of the local fortune-telling businesses and another in 2008 between Merino and Lindell Spas in Frisco.
The details and outcomes of those cases were not available at press time.
In Eagle County, Merino was a defendant in 2011 in two forcible entry cases. One of those cases was dismissed. Merino was allowed to repossess the property in the second, according to court records.
In addition, McLaughlin testified that while inspecting his property last month, he found an eviction notice issued to Merino in August 2012 out of San Diego Superior Court.
Following Tuesday’s trial, McLaughlin said he could tell within the first six weeks of renting his property to Merino that the issue would ultimately have to be settled in court.
“It’s apparent, knowing what we know now, that Mr. Merino has a habit of doing this,” McLaughlin said. “This man needs to be stopped and I intend to pursue him for collection.
“And people who do business in this county need to be warned about him, as well. There were a lot of receipts and bills in the house that have gone unpaid.”