An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published February 12, 2007


Everybody is talking about the lack of enforcement and accountability in our associations. Homeowners' money is wasted, misappropriated, misused --  and/or plainly embezzled! That is exactly the reason why homeowners are begging our legislators for many years to regulate these associations, provide easy enforcement of rules and statutes and create the accountability of the people in charge! As we say: Talk is cheap! But nothing has been done so far to hold the people in charge accountable!


And it is bad enough if a whole community realizes that they have been had, that their association accounts are plundered and so far more than $500,000 are unaccounted for -- most likely a lot more is missing -- and the bills havenít been paid for quite a while -- meaning a special assessment is on the horizon in order to pay the most urgent bills!


But it adds insult to injury, when the owners have to realize that the law enforcement agency, supposed to take care of protecting citizens against crime, drags their feet and lets the person, the hot suspect in this embezzlement scheme, leave the state and remove all her personal belongings -- most likely including the association records -- with a moving van. Comment from a police officer in charge: "Arrest anybody who interferes with the moving van!"


Maybe the police statement should rather be rephrased into: "Nothing we really want to do, we are not interested in anything that happens in homeowners' associations and our detectives are anyway overworked!" Welcome to Fraud Friendly Florida !


This just happened to the homeowners in the BOCA RIO TOWNHOME ASSOCIATION, INC. in Boca Raton. If you want to take a glimpse at their association bank statements, just take a look by clicking HERE! (Just 21 days of one month in 2006) 


According to information available: The only person who had a charge card in the name of the association was Betty Marshall, the president! What does that tell you? Mr. Unknown visited the ATM machines frequently?


The charges you see are just a tiny part of what was being charged to the association's bank account since quite a while! Complete forensic accounting -- more cost to the homeowners -- has to be done in order to establish the accurate damage that was done to the association finances.


It looks like it all started with an amendment to the By-Laws prepared by the law firm of Robert Kaye & Associates, P.A., recorded on February 22, 2005. The disturbing part of this recording is the fact that it was signed only by Betty Marshall as the association president and a person attesting as Secretary of Rio Townhouses Association, Inc. -- Jennifer Diaz.  Diaz may have been a secretary by profession, but NOT the Secretary of the Board of the Association, definitely not according to the records filed with the Division of Corporations. And it seems that the other board members serving at that time can't remember voting on this amendment in a public meeting -- or how about the necessary vote of the members? 


It seems -- from that point of time all finances in this community went downhill! Attempts from concerned owners to see the financial records were furiously defeated -- with insults, nasty letters and the threat of lawsuits.


The owners of Boca Rio are facing a serious financial disaster and have to dig deep in their pockets to put money back into the association coffers, before vendors and service providers, whose bills have been unpaid for quite a while, file liens on the homes of innocent owners.


The former treasurer of a homeowners' association in Central Florida is sitting in jail, waiting for trial -- for embezzling more than $1 million from another corporation!  Now the board of the association of her HOA is still desperately trying to avoid homeowners seeing the financial records. Why may that be?


The big difference here: The damaged party was not a homeowners' association -- meaning Joe and Jane Homeowner -- but the almighty corporation of AOL. I guess it depends for the police on who you are, to decide if they are willing to go after embezzlers?


In my opinion anybody who robs a bank in Florida is stupid. What can you steal? $20,000 -- or may be $30,000? Anyway, any law enforcement agency -- including the FBI -- will be after you. And if they catch you -- you'll spend a long time in jail!


Instead go and buy a home or condo in an association and get yourself elected to the board -- president and/or treasurer. According to Donna Berger from CALL, it's real easy, since there are not enough volunteers to serve.  Then embezzle the money as soon as it comes in!  Don't be happy with just $20,000 -- or may be $30,000? We're easily talking here six-digit figures -- the more intimidating you or your association attorney behave the better your chances for real big money. Be charming -- or be a nice little old lady -- and the money is there-- help yourself!

And even if you get caught -- ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM! NOTHING WILL HAPPEN!  Law enforcement agencies will drag their feet -- allowing you and your belongings to leave the state -- and the state attorneys will try to calm down the irate homeowners by telling them that this is a civil matter -- not within their jurisdiction. (See:
DEMAND: Investigate Condominium Corruption ) But don't try to steal a paper-back novel from a store: They will all be after you!


It is really high time that our legislators create the necessary accountability and enforcement. By creating these associations they created big bank accounts, but forgot to protect the money -- and the homeowners.  Unprotected money attracts bad guys like honey attracts bees!  But the bad guys need to know that they will be severely punished if they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar.