Condo president charged with stealing from her association
A Hollywood condo association president was recently arrested on charges of scamming more than $46,000 in association funds on trips to local casinos.
Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald
By LAURA FIGUEROA
Published April 29, 2010
The residents of Hillcrest Condominium Building 23 in Hollywood regarded their association president Bonnie Andrews Soloman as a "trustworthy'' woman with a penchant for playing the penny slots at local casinos.
Then they uncovered the association's bank statements detailing more than $46,800 in ATM withdrawals at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and the Seminole Indian Gaming Casino over the course of a year.
Soloman was arrested earlier this month by Seminole police on a felony charge of grand theft after board members brought their concerns to the tribe's authorities.
"We knew that she loved playing slot machines, but we thought she was just playing the penny slots,'' said Carl Angell, 65, who is now serving as the condo board's president.
Soloman was released on $5,000 bail, but hasn't been spotted since by the residents of the tight-knit 10-story apartment building that caters to the senior set.
Now as auditors hired by the condo association sort through the bank statements, Hillcrest residents worry Soloman may have bilked them of more money than initially suspected.
"We're finding other charges that were inappropriate,'' said Angell who declined to elaborate on the nature of the charges at the request of the condo association's attorney.
Angell served with Soloman on the board for the past year and said the good-natured Soloman who hails from Canada gave him no reason to suspect she was mishandling the association's funds.
"She made it so easy to trust her,'' Angell said. "Everyone really loved her, which makes it even harder because no one saw it coming. She worked really hard for our building. She had a brilliant handle on everything.''
Also adding to Soloman's credibility among residents was the fact that an audit conducted last year by a paid consultant gave no indication of financial mismanagement.
"At this point, we've hired a forensic accountant and they'll be looking at that, and how this could have happened,'' said attorney Thomas J. Tighe, who represents the Hillcrest residents.
Board members only started to question Soloman's handling of funds when they kept pressing her to schedule an audit for the 2009 budget.
But she kept giving them the run around.
After working with their Wachovia Bank branch to get copies of the bank statements, Angell said he and another board member found more than $7,000 in withdrawals from the two casinos within a month's span.
"We thought she must have used the wrong card,'' Angell said. "We didn't want to believe it. Then we got all the statements for 2009 and we were astonished.''
Though Soloman was arrested by the sovereign Seminole Tribe, her case was handed over to the Broward State Attorney's Office, which has until Thursdayto formally file a case against her.
Hillcrest's dilemma highlights the need for safeguards and checks and balances when it comes to administrating the thousands if not millions of dollars condo and homeowner associations collect in fees.
"It's absolutely necessary to have a system of checks and balances in place,'' said Donna D. Berger, executive director of Community Action Network, a group formed to provide condo associations with advice and training opportunities.
"Especially in this economy it's becoming more of an issue because people have all these financial pressures,'' she said. "They're losing their jobs, they may have bills piling up and there may be all this temptation.''
Berger recommends groups stick to using checks that must be signed by two board members. ATM cards should be avoided, and if the board decides on a credit card the limit should be set at no more than $500.
"Nothing could be that big of an emergency that it can't be paid for by a check,'' Berger said.
All may not be lost for the Hillcrest condo owners. They expect their insurance provider may be able to replace part or all of the money.
Until then, Angell said he has advice for fellow condo owners: "One thing I would say is debit cards are not the way to go. We learned that the hard way.'