2 arrested in multi-million dollar fraud scheme at Hallandale Beach condominium

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published May 24, 2007


Two people were arrested Wednesday and two others were being sought in connection with an alleged kickback scheme at a Hallandale Beach condo that may have cost apartment owners up to $4 million in unnecessary assessments, police and condo officials said.

The warrants charging the four with fraud should serve as a warning that those caught with their hands in associations' treasuries face arrest and criminal prosecution, state and city officials said.

"I hope we're sending a clear message," said state Rep. Joseph Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach.

The case also should show condo owners that if they think their directors are misspending their money and if they are willing to do a little digging, police will stop brushing off their allegations as civil matters and start investigating them as crimes, said state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami.

Surrendering Wednesday were Ira Silver, 62, of Fort Lauderdale, a plumbing contractor; and Robert M. Hittner, 58, of Cooper City, a veteran state-certified community association manager. Hittner worked for the Condominium Association of Parker Plaza Estates, a 520-unit high-rise in the 2000 block of South Ocean Drive.

The two were charged with organized fraud and released on $25,000 bonds. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years and a $10,000 fine.

Hallandale Beach Police Detective Eric Williams said two unidentified suspects are being sought. Warrants against additional suspects are possible later, he said.

The alleged scheme involved association representatives requiring contractors to kick back a portion of what the condo paid them for various services. Those amounts were added to the cost of the work.

The catalyst for the two-year investigation was a previous board's attempt to assess owners $14.3 million to replace windows with impact glass, according to Robert Fisher, former president of the Parker Plaza association, and current president Donald Pinkus. Several upset owners began digging and found discrepancies in the books.

When the original board wouldn't respond to complaints, the owners recalled it.

The next board, with Fisher as president, "started uncovering more improprieties and that led to today," Pinkus said. It replaced the windows for $5.5 million, he said.

By the time all the problems are uncovered, Pinkus said, the total amount misspent could reach $4 million.

"I was a Hallandale Beach commissioner when [newly elected] association people came to me," Gibbons said. "They were very frustrated because these kind of cases are difficult to prosecute, they require lots of documentation and proof."

"Police said they get complaints all the time but considered them mistakes made by [volunteer] directors," he said. "I said no, some of these are valid, that they are white-collar crimes."

Robaina this year persuaded Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to set up a pilot program to teach police and prosecutors that complaints from unit owners may be crimes.

Detectives from 11 Miami-Dade police departments, along with some Broward agencies, attended a Jan. 10 training session.

One result was a checklist that detectives could give unit owners, Robaina said.

"Detectives in Broward County and Palm Beach County have been calling us because they know we're pushing this and we're helping them in any way, shape or form we can," he said. "We're all working with each other."