4 arrests spur hope for other condo cases

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published June 1, 2007


The arrests of four people accused of defrauding a Hallandale Beach condo association is making other law enforcement agencies take such accusations more seriously, according to the state condo ombudsman and condo advocates.

Until the arrests last month, police and prosecutors generally brushed off complaints as civil matters rather than criminal, or they couldn't devote the time and manpower to the complex cases.
Since then, however, "we've heard from numerous police departments with questions, and about setting up some additional training," said Danille R. Carroll, the condo ombudsman.

Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, an advocacy group for condo unit owners, agrees police attitudes have changed.

"There is a case in Palm Beach County similar to Hallandale Beach that no one would do anything about since January and now they are," he said.

That case involves Boca Rio Townhomes, a 264-unit community, where homeowners in January filed a police report alleging a past director stole more than $100,000. They followed that up with a lawsuit alleging fraud, negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.

Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office spokesman Paul Miller said the case was under investigation and he couldn't discuss it. He would not say if the investigation began before the Hallandale Beach case broke.

"The laws are there. The problem is that state attorneys never felt they should do anything about it," said Donna Berger, executive director of the Community Advocacy Network. "They were under the impression that since an association is private, they didn't have jurisdiction and, to be honest, they didn't want jurisdiction. "

In the Hallandale Beach case, authorities say $1.44 million may have been stolen in an alleged kickback scheme at the Condominium Association of Parker Plaza Estates.

Awaiting trial on organized fraud charges are former condo president Joseph Greenberg, 83; maintenance supervisor Angel Ramos, 77; community association manager Robert Hittner, 58; and Fort Lauderdale plumbing contractor Ira Silver, 62.

Here are some contacts:

State condo ombudsman: ombudsman@dbpr.state.fl.us ; 954-202-3234; 850-922-7671 (not toll free); www.myflorida.com/condos . The ombudsman's office answers questions for unit owners, tries to mediate disputes between owners and boards, monitors elections and educates owners.

Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums & Mobile Homes: 954-202-3982; 800-226-9101; www.state.fl.us/dbpr/lsc/condominiums/index.shtml . The division enforces state condo law.

State condo law: www.flsenate.gov/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=Ch0718/ch0718.htm 

State homeowner association law: www.flsenate.gov/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=Ch0720/ch0720.htm 

Cyber Citizens for Justice, a nonprofit representing Florida condo and homeowner association unit owners: www.ccfj.net .

Community Associations Leadership Lobby, an organization that represents boards and those who manage and advise associations: www.callbp.com .