Hallandale condo worker got hush money, cops say

Article Courtesy of Miami Herald


Published May 31, 2007

Three of the men accused of bilking $1.4 million from Hallandale Beach condominium owners paid a building employee $86,000 to keep quiet about the fraud, according to police.

One place allegedly used as a payoff site: the parking lot of a Miami-Dade Wal-Mart.

Valerie Davis, 45, worked for several years as an assistant condo manager at Parker Plaza Estates, 2030 S. Ocean Dr.

Then, according to police, she discovered her boss, Robert Hittner, 59, and three other men were scheming to inflate bids for work and keep the overpayments.

So several of the men now charged with organized fraud in the case started paying off Davis, according to police documents.

When she left the condo, the money kept coming to keep her quiet, police said.

Now she is cooperating with investigators.

''She is looking forward to closing this horrific chapter in her life,'' said Davis' attorney, Brian Bieber. "Unfortunately, she got swept away in the hurricane of cash.''

Hittner's lawyer, Bruce Zimet, said his client would plead not guilty. As part of the defense, Zimet said he would evaluate the accuracy of Davis' statements.

''A lot of people say a lot of things that aren't necessarily correct,'' Zimet said.

Four men are charged in the case: Hittner; former condo president Joseph Greenberg, 83; contractor Ira Silver, 62; and maintenance supervisor Angel Ramos, 77. Hittner made at least some of the payments, and Ramos and Greenberg knew about them, the arrest documents stated. Silver was named in police documents, but not in connection to the alleged bribes.

Investigators say the men created a system where the condo board would approve overestimates for work at the building and have Silver return the extra money -- totaling about $1.4 million -- to the other three.

Davis won't face criminal charges because investigators had no evidence against her before taking her statement, which she gave in return for immunity, said Hallandale Beach police Detective Eric Williams, who led the investigation.

But Davis is named in a civil suit brought against the old management and former board members. As part of that suit, Davis is paying back all the money she got, said Bieber, although he would not say how much.

Arrest documents put the amount at $86,000. While at the building, Davis noticed closed-door meetings with vendors and other suspicious behavior, Bieber said.


Ramos confronted Davis at her Sanibel Island home about the situation.

'He instructed her that she could `keep her mouth closed' about what she knew and that she would receive a portion of the proceeds at her office at the condominium,'' according to arrest reports filed against all four men.

Davis feared consequences if she didn't take the money from her superiors, Bieber said.

A painting contract netted Davis $20,000; a proposal to replace 520 air conditioners in the building got her another $20,000.

QUIT IN 2002

Davis left the condo in 2002, but the men feared that Davis, when no longer under their control, would start talking. So they kept paying her, police said.

She got another $46,000 from Hittner over time, Davis said; he would pay her either at his home or in the parking lot of a Miami-Dade Wal-Mart, Davis told police.

During his investigation, Williams heard that Davis was receiving money but found no evidence of it. Williams told this to Bieber, who called him back within minutes saying Davis wanted to talk, hoping to ''clear her conscience,'' Williams recalled.