Hallandale condo residents lament delays in long-stalled condo kickback case

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Tonya Alanez

Published March 9, 2012

 

HALLANDALE BEACH -- Senior residents of Parker Plaza Estates Condos fear they or the defendants -- won't live long enough to see three men accused of stealing nearly $3 million from their condo association brought to justice.

 

With dismay on Wednesday, they heard a judge postpone a May trial date until September in the 2007 case.

 

Former building manager Robert Hittner, former maintenance supervisor Angel B. Ramos, and plumbing contractor Ira Silver, are accused of participating in an alleged kickback scheme at the 520-unit high rise at 2030 S. Ocean Drive from 2003 to 2006.

More than 30 condo residents -- all seniors -- packed Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Levenson's courtroom Wednesday, hopeful that a May 7 trial date would stand.

"You're the third judge in this case, this is almost five years old, I'm 89 years old," Daniel Levine said to the judge. "I want to see this resolved. Time is of the essence."

Robert Hittner, from left, Angel B. Ramos and Ira Silver.


   

Levenson, who recently inherited the case from Judge Michael Robinson, explained that it's a complex case, likely to take at least three weeks at trial and working around scheduling conflicts for three over-booked defense attorneys proved tricky.

"You deserve better," Levenson said. "This case should not have taken as long as it has."

Levenson assured the crowd that the Sept. 10 trial date is definite: "That's date certain. That's it, God willing."

The three accused men each have been free on $25,000 bail.

Hittner, 63, and Ramos, 82, each face three first-degree felony counts of fraud. Silver, 67, faces one count. Each count carries a maximum punishment of 30 years in prison.

"I feel very frustrated, terrible, it's ridiculous," Ruth Squillante, 66, said after the hearing. "By the time they have this case, they'll be dead already."

Since July 1, 2011, the state division that oversees condos has received 474 cases alleging some form of financial mismanagement, failing to budget correctly to something criminal, said Sandi Copes Poreda, spokeswoman for the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

A two-year investigation uncovered an alleged scheme where association representatives required contractors to kick back a portion of what the condo paid them for their services. Those amounts were added to the cost of the work.

Under the terms of a November 2007 plea deal, the former association president, Joseph D. Greenberg, now 87, agreed to pay $250,000 in restitution, forfeit ownership of his condo and serve seven years' probation.

Before agreeing upon the September trial date, Levenson and attorneys explored the likelihood of possible plea deals, only to conclude that trial seemed the destined route.

Prosecutor Don Tenbrook said the state would entertain a sentence of probation for Silver, if he could reach an agreement in a pending civil case.

Ramos, broke and in poor health, Tenbrook said, should probably enter an open plea, leaving it to the judge to decide whether there's legal cause to give him a sentence less severe than 33 months in state prison, the minimum sentence recommended under state guidelines.

But Hittner, "the kingpin in this alleged scheme," Tenbrook said, needed to serve some prison time.

Silver's attorney, Fred Haddad, said his client would agree to probation and restitution of between $400,000 and $450,000. He would pay $250,000 up front and put his business up as collateral for the remainder with probation to be terminated upon final payment.

Probation termination would serve as "strong incentive" to pay it off as quickly as possible, Haddad said.

But the condo association's civil attorney, Lisa Hermann, said her clients balked at the collateral and litigation that would be necessary to liquidate his business: "My clients are eager and anxious to take this to trial."

Ramos' attorney, David Bogenschutz, said his client, who now lives in North Carolina, suffers from "significant heart, liver and pancreas issues," rents a $700-a-month apartment, has no assets, is $500,000 in debt and relies solely on Social Security income.

"He has significant medical issues and virtually no ability to make restitution and he's 82 years old," Bogenschutz said.

Hermann, the civil attorney, countered: "My clients are likewise elderly, they're not all in good health and they'd like to see this go to trial sooner rather than later."

Hittner's attorney, Bruce Zimet, said his client also had no means to pay restitution.

"It's baloney that they don't have any money," Squillante said. "They hid it very well. They had five years to hide it."


THE PARKER PLAZA SCAM!

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