Suit says Boca Rio funds misspent
Homeowner group alleges past president committed fraud

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Paola Iuspa-Abbott

Published February 24, 2007


The former president of the Boca Rio Townhome Association improperly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over a three-year period, depleting association accounts and leaving owners scrambling to pay contractors, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The former president and her husband, who have since moved out of the complex, and the former vice president spent $622,070 on online gaming services, mortgage payments, airplane tickets sold in at least four states, cell phone and cable services and on an online music service, among other things, according to the lawsuit.

The new board recently obtained bank statements from the association's bank, SunTrust, and discovered what appeared to be unauthorized withdrawals, said Randy Gavitt, a new board member of the 264-home community west of the Florida's Turnpike and south of West Palmetto Park Road.

With that evidence, homeowners said that in mid-January they filed a police report alleging the past president Betty Marshal stole more than $100,000 from the association. Friday, they followed up with a lawsuit accusing the former board member of committing fraud, negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.

The lawsuit, which aims to recover the missing money, names Marshal, her husband, Albert, and former association vice president Mike Addessi as defendants. Attempts to reach Addessi late Friday were not successful.

Betty Marshal's attorney Leah Mayersohn said in an interview before the lawsuit was filed that other board members had access to the association's funds and that her client did nothing wrong. She said the accusations are coming from a group of disgruntled homeowners who disagreed with Marshal's enforcement of the association's rules and regulations.

"It was a condo commando gone wild," she said, referring to the homeowners who she said stalked and harassed her client when Marshal was the board president.

"If they had any evidence, the police would have arrested her already," Mayersohn said.

Marshal resigned Jan. 16 and days later moved out of her Boca Rio home. She now lives in Hershey, Pa., where she and her husband own a primary residence, Mayersohn said.

Boca Rio is struggling to cover its operating expenses and pay contractors, Gavitt said. Neighbors in November began pressing for Marshal's resignation after three years as president.

Gavitt got involved when Boca Rio's lawn began to turn brown, sprinklers were not fixed, the exterior painting of the homes kept being postponed and contractors started threatening to file liens for lack of payment, he said.

He and 15 other owners began asking questions and requesting access to financial records, Gavitt said.

"They wouldn't give us anything," he said, referring to the past board. State law requires that association records be open to homeowners.

After Marshal's resignation, homeowners were able to review documents and discover the withdrawals from ATMs at the Seminole Casino in Coconut Creek and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Gavitt said.

They also learned Marshal owed about $6,000 in unpaid maintenance fees at her Boca Rio home. The new board recently put a lien on her vacant home at Boca Rio, according to public records.

Mayersohn said her client had an agreement with the previous board in which she was spared from paying her maintenance fee in exchange for her work as president.

The Sheriff's Office is investigating the allegations, spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.

"Boca Rio residents are upset because they don't think we are doing enough," she said. "They need to understand that it takes time to get the information from the bank."

Assistant State Attorney Preston Mighdoll said state laws that regulate homeowners associations lack criminal sanctions, making financial crimes hard to prosecute.

"We don't have statutes that address fraud in condominium and homeowner associations," said Mighdoll, chief of the Economic Crime Unit at the State Attorney's Office. Because of that, local police departments find it hard to investigate such cases, said Mighdoll.