A Miami condo king fudges a famous relative

Cristiano Piquet has it all: fast cars, luxury boats, beautiful women, and a booming business. Since 2005, Piquet Realty has sold hundreds of millions of dollars of prime Miami condos to his fellow Brazilians. He even has his own company calendar of supermodels.

But in the past year, cracks have appeared in Piquet's perfectly painted life. His claim that he's related to one of Brazil's most famous racecar drivers has fallen apart. Now a former employee is suing him for breach of contract.

Piquet arrived in Miami in 2001 with notions of glory — just not in real estate.

"I was already a three-time national racing champion in Brazil when they invited me to race in America," he tells Riptide. "I moved here to race cars. That's all I did until 2005, when I got my real estate license."

Business took off, perhaps in part because of Piquet's supposedly famous pedigree. In 2008, the Miami Herald described him as the nephew of Brazil's most famous racecar driver, three-time Formula 1 champion Nelson Piquet. A few months later, when another reporter asked him if he would race on the same team as his cousin — Nelson Piquet Jr. — Cristiano answered, "Unfortunately, no... [but] we are still working on this deal."

And until recently, his website said he hailed from "one of the most recognized families in the area of racing."

Not really. "Maybe we share a great, great, great, great-grandparent," says Kelly Piquet, Nelson Piquet's daughter. "The bottom line is that he has our same last name but he's not related. I don't know why he keeps saying that."

When New Times confronts him, Cristiano Piquet claims he has never said he's Nelson Piquet Sr.'s nephew. "I call Nelson [Jr.] my 'adopted cousin,'" he says.

If that weren't confusing enough, he adds, "We all came from one guy who came from France to Brazil. It's a small family. Everybody is related somehow, and we are very close."

The not-so-family feud might not be his biggest problem. Claudia Dena, a former employee of Piquet Realty, is now suing him over $72,658 in commissions she says Piquet owes her.

"I sold almost $3 million in properties for him," Dena says. "I worked, and he didn't pay me at all."

"This lady is trying to ask for a commission that she's not entitled to," Piquet says of the suit, which is in arbitration. "She was just trying to play me."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.