$1 million condo account theft suspected

Article Courtesy of The Herald Tribune

By Kate Spinner

Published September 19, 2008 

Residents of the Charlotte Square Condominiums are angry and concerned after learning that hundreds of thousands of dollars from several of the condominium association's accounts have reportedly turned up missing.

Losses at just one of the nine buildings in the 55-and-older complex are estimated at more than $140,000. Losses at the other buildings have yet to be tallied, but some residents estimate the figure is nearly $1 million.

The missing money apparently came to light three weeks ago when the treasurer of the Charlotte Square Condominium Association -- an 88-year-old volunteer who did not want to be named -- noticed what appeared to be bounced checks and reported the discrepancy to the property management agency.

In the ensuing days, the agency, Star Hospitality Management of Punta Gorda, fired an employee who handled banking and billing for the complex, according to several residents who are active in the condominium association.

Sherry Danko, president of the management company, would not comment Wednesday, except to say that an investigation is under way. She would not say whether the Sheriff's Office had been notified.

Officials with the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday could not immediately locate any complaints about the missing funds.

Two weeks ago, Danko held a special meeting to tell residents that money was missing.

Few attended, said Doris Pistel, an active resident who took notes at the meeting.

"Star Management has dismissed" the employee "and filed a case with police," Pistel wrote in her notes. "There has been stolen money and bounced checks. Suspect cooked bank statements."

She also wrote that insurance bonds would cover each building in the complex up to $50,000, a far cry from the amount that appears to be missing.

Each building has its own condo association that collects fees from residents for utilities, maintenance and repairs.

Star Management, however, has been handling all of the finances for over a decade.

The loss is devastating to the 384 residents of Charlotte Square, most of whom are very elderly. The condo complex is located across the street from Fawcett Memorial Hospital.

"A lot of people here are living check to check because they're widows and they lost their husband's side of the Social Security check," said Lance Day, a resident of Cambridge House, one of the buildings in the complex.

Day also was president of his building's association for years, until recent medical problems caused him to step down.

He said the financial situation at Charlotte Square has been in a shambles at least since he bought his condo in 2004.

Even as president, he said, he never received good financial records, only rough outlines of revenues and expenses with no details.

In a precursor to today's problems at Charlotte Square, water was shut off to the Cambridge House about four months ago. The property manager failed to pay the bills, said John Jackomin, vice president of the building's association.

The office manager told residents that she had tried to pay the bill online, but that her computer had been giving her problems, Jackomin said.

Jackomin and Day have been trying for days to get access to their building's financial records to see how much, if any, they have lost. But Star Management has refused them access to their own records, Jackomin and Day said.

"Star Management is in there controlling the whole office and won't let us into our papers or anything," Day said, adding that he was told he needed a court order. "I'd like to get a court order to get them out of there because they could be possibly removing stuff that could be damaging to them."