Article Courtesy of Miami Herald
By Enrique Flor and Brenda Medina
Published May 21, 2016
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez says he will travel to
Tallahassee during the legislative session to support a group of state
lawmakers from South Florida who will seek to reform state legislation in
order to crack down on a wave of condominium frauds.
The initiative that will be submitted in November by State Rep. José Félix
Díaz, as leader of the county's delegation to the state legislation, aims to
make substantial changes in the state regulations for residential complexes.
“I am going to support the proposals of
Rep. Díaz when he goes to Tallahassee to fight for these
changes in the laws on condominiums and home owners
associations,” Giménez told el Nuevo Herald. “I will go with
him to give him my full support and make sure these
proposals can pass.”
Giménez' decision was applauded by a dozen residents who
attended a meeting Thursday at the county police
headquarters in Doral to discuss the growing allegations of
A series of investigative articles by el Nuevo Herald and
Univision 23 published last month has revealed a string of
scams and irregularities affecting Miami-Dade condominiums.
After the stories were published, residents of several
condos around the county have organized protests demanding
action by local and state authorities. During the meeting
Thursday, condo owners announced they would march in
downtown Doral Saturday, starting at 11 a.m., to demand
changes in the state laws that regulate condos.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez speaks with Luz
Moscoso and Ruben Gallardo, condominium owners who attended the
meeting at county police headquarters.
Also attending the meeting at county police headquarters were Díaz and state
prosecutor John Perikles, who heads the financial crimes unit in Miami-Dade,
as well as detectives from the county police's economic crimes unit, a
representative of the state department that regulates condos, known as DBPR,
and residents of condos in Doral, Fontainebleau, Hialeah Gardens and North
Miami-Dade, among other areas.
“When I discovered that my signature on a vote in my condo elections had
been falsified, I complained to the DBPR but was told they could no longer
investigate because 60 days had passed,” said Fabio Peñaloza, resident of
the Las Vistas condo in Doral.
“I went to the Doral police and they told me they did not have the resources
to investigate this type of crime, and that I should go to the Miami-Dade
police,” Peñaloza said. “There, a detective … told me the case was
complicated and the investigation could take a year or two.”
“But what we have found is not an isolated case. It is a major pattern of
fraud,” he added.
Other owners at the meeting also complained that authorities do not
investigate allegations of electoral fraud, irregular bid processes and
financial mismanagement in the condos.
The problem is especially prevalent in Miami-Dade, which has 22 percent of
all condos in Florida and is the source of the vast majority of the hundreds
of complaints received by the DBPR each year.
“The police tell me, 'that's not our problem.' The prosecutors tell me,
'this is not our problem.' So, who's problem is it?” said Jose Rosario, a
resident of the Samari Lakes condominiums in Hialeah Gardens.
Miami-Dade police Assistant Director Freddy Ramirez replied that the
department recently ordered its agents to file reports on any complaints
about condos received. Condo owners have complained that police departments
usually handle their allegations as civil matters and refuse to document
County police opened an investigation last month of The Beach Club in
Fontainebleau Park after el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 published articles
showing a massive falsification of signatures on votes for a board election,
as well as the allegedly fraudulent award of a $5 million-dollar contract to
a roofing company.
Ramirez, Gimenez and other officials at the meeting insisted that current
laws limit the capacity of police and prosecutors to investigate condo
cases. Residents, for their part, complained that the DBPR — Department of
Business and Professional Regulation — often claims it does not have the
jurisdiction to investigate some types of complaints.
Díaz noted that after meeting with condo owners and analyzing the fraudulent
schemes uncovered by el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23, he decided to propose
that the Miami-Dade delegation urge the state legislature to adopt condo
regulation reforms as a priority. He has tried at least twice to make some
changes in state laws that regulate condos without success.
“We have real and systemic problems, and they are not all the same,” said
Díaz. The solution is “a combination of the DBPR, state prosecutors and
police. And there must be a more profound examination of what activities
must be categorized as crimes.”
Díaz said part of the reforms will include categorizing as crimes some of
the activities by companies that manage condos, and strengthening the rights
The legislative proposal, he added, also will seek to clearly define
conflicts of interests that wind up bleeding condo coffers for the benefit
of a few people.
“We have seen that there are companies in different Miami-Dade condominiums
that do business with other companies they are linked to, but are charging
extremely high prices,” said Díaz.
“It's difficult to regulate private businesses, but what we can do is to
make sure that condo owners can know the true bids” for condo contracts, he
said, “and not allow cases like The Beach Club, where there are allegations
of a fraudulent bidding process.”