Sailwind Condo Assn. loses money to embezzler

Article Courtesy of The Gulf Breeze News

By Joe Culpepper

Published March 5, 2010

A Gulf Breeze condominium association is refocusing its oversight practices after an estimated $114,000 was embezzled from its coffers by a former business manager.

Tina Dianne Mitchell, 40, of Pensacola, faces between 19 and 210 years in state prison when she is sentenced in Escambia County Circuit Court on Monday, March 15. Mitchell pleaded guilty Feb. 16 to embezzling more than $856,000 from five area homeowners associations – including Sailwind Condominium Association of Gulf Breeze – between 2006 and 2009 while she worked for two Pensacola area homeowner association management companies.

The woman pleaded guilty to three counts of money laundering and five counts of grand theft. According to the State Attorney’s Office, Mitchell engaged in a continuing scheme whereby she stole money from Sabine Yacht and Racquet Club, Heron’s Forest Property Owners Association, Inc., Bayview Terrace and Bay Wind Homeowner Associations.

Montgomery Management Associates, which employed Mitchell, first notified Sailwind of improprieties it discovered in March 2009. It rescinded its management representation and was replaced by Barrons Realty of Gulf Breeze.

“We didn’t pay attention,” Sailwind Condominiums Association Board Vice President Joe Concannon admitted. “We did not review the monthly bank statements, and she kept assuring us everything was fine.

“She was pretty good at covering everything up. She would make up fake income tax submissions, statements from banks, all kinds of fake stuff to make the books balance. The money was either going into her pocket or floating around between several associations. She had complete control through her company on all transactions or any activity.”

According to state prosecutor Troy Bouk, Mitchell wrote numerous checks of between $2,800 and $4,800 mostly to a joint account on her husband’s professional maintenance business account, which she also managed. She then would make withdrawals or expenditures including massive amounts of Mary Kay cosmetics, which she sold.

She drove a pink Cadillac that signified her elite status as a Mary Kay representative.

“In order to cover up her scheme,” Bouk said, “she drained some of the homeowners association accounts so badly that the HOAs were bouncing checks when they should have had several thousand dollars in their accounts. This was just after hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, and the HOAs were receiving large insurance payments. The insurance money would be deposited into their accounts, and that was sort of like a feeding frenzy for her.”

Concannon said Sailwind’s losses weren’t as severe as some of the other HOAs.

The association received a $50,000 reimbursement from its insurance company that wasn’t the result of a claim. That money apparently was skimmed, and Sailwind had to arrange incremental insurance payments for 2009 instead of a lump-sum advance payment.

“The hardship money we had put aside in reserves for roofs, shingles, siding, driveways and numerous repair needs . . . that money’s pretty much gone,” Concannon said.

“We haven’t had to have any special assessments. We haven’t raised the condo fee, and we haven’t eliminated anything. It’s just that the nest-egg that we had built is gone.”

Concannon said Mitchell also stole large, undetermined amounts of money from Sailwind’s coin-operated laundry service.

“There are no records of where that money went,” he said.

Treasurer Sue Miller is now closely monitoring Sailwind’s bank account on a regular basis.

Bouk said Montgomery Associates was a victim of sorts, too.

“They are now on the hook for all the wrongs she’s done because she was working for them,” the prosecutor said. “During the execution of her job duties, she defrauded a lot of people. I think there are civil lawsuits going in all directions.

“Montgomery Associates, as far as we know, never had any money stolen from them. But in terms of preponderance, they were victims.”

A call to Montgomery Associates owner Robert Montgomery seeking comment was not returned.

Woman pleads guilty to embezzlement of $856K

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