Hallandale police probing condo's finances
Police are investigation possible financial wrongdoing possibly
hundreds of thousands of dollars at the 520-unit Parker Plaza Estates.
Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald
BY JENNIFER LEBOVICH
March 17, 2007
The new members of the 520-unit Parker Plaza Estates condo board in Hallandale Beach already knew something was amiss by the time they ousted all nine incumbents last year.
Now, Hallandale Beach police are looking into just how far-reaching the problems were.
Police are releasing limited details of a 14-month investigation into allegations of possible kickback payments between the former condo board and contractors.
A civil lawsuit filed last year says Parker Plaza Estates residents may have been defrauded out of funds earmarked for upkeep. Since the investigation is ongoing, no one knows exactly how much is missing, but police say one former board member may have taken as much as $200,000.
''We determined we had been ripped off for a number of years,'' said Sy Kessler, a board member since 2006. "It's horrendous. You feel like you've been abused. You've been paying for things you haven't been getting. People who are supposed to be your friends, supposed to be your neighbors, have been stealing from you.''
The police investigation mirrors allegations made in the suit, said Brian Bieber, an attorney for one of the principals in the suit.
It ''expands into many areas of impropriety by individuals employed at Parker Plaza during several years,'' Bieber added.
The suit talks about kickbacks and inflating contracts -- even manipulating ballots to stay in power.
Police have interviewed contractors who said they felt pressure to make kickbacks to get condo work, according to detective Eric Williams.
Police also are looking into similar allegations against other city condo boards but have found enough evidence for possible charges only in the Parker Plaza Estates case, said Assistant Chief Jim Kirchoff.
On Thursday, Hallandale Beach police escorted former condo president Joseph Greenberg from the building. He was interviewed at police headquarters, but not arrested or charged.
Police say Greenberg stole almost $200,000 from the condo while heading the board for several years. Detectives were investigating Greenberg for possible violation of banking regulations.
Greenberg, 83, has not been charged with any crime, said his attorney, Scott Saul.
''From my limited knowledge, he's not the most culpable party here,'' said Saul. "He's not the guy negotiating the contract, and he's not the guy that selected the contractors. The [police] inquiries all had to do with kickbacks.''
The investigation surprised some residents who say they didn't suspect a thing.
''I thought everything looked nice and cozy here,'' said Daniel Levine, 84. Then he saw police leading Greenberg away from the oceanfront building, 2030 S. Ocean Dr.
"I've been here 18 years. I never suspected any foul play.''
Things began to unravel when a group of owners finally dumped the old board last February.
A month later, new president Robert Fisher filed a civil suit against 12 people -- including staff, former board members and the condo association. Fisher could not be reached for comment Friday.
The principals in the lawsuit are property managers Robert Hittner and Valerie Davis, building engineer Angel Ramos and board members Milton Beer, Mickie Wohl, Arline Vordermeier, Bruce Kirsch, Dave Thomas, Maxine Paris, Albert Rotches, Hugo McFarlane and Greenberg.
None of those named in the suit could be reached for comment.
According to the lawsuit, over several years, board members would contract with firms to do work around the H-shaped building at an inflated price.
Unnamed contractors would kick back money to some condo board members and three staffers named in the lawsuit.
Multiple checks would be written on the same day to the same vendor, according to the suit. The vendor, in turn, would endorse the checks and cash them at a local check cashing store. Then, cash would be paid out to Hittner, Davis, Ramos or Greenberg.
Police questioned Greenberg late Thursday about improper bank transfers over a period of one year into several of his personal bank accounts that totaled almost $200,000.
Greenberg is cooperating fully with investigators, his attorney said.
Police last year also met with Davis, who managed the condo from 1996 to 2002, Bieber said Friday.
''She gave a full and complete disclosure as to what she personally observed regarding conduct of those who had access to the associations funds and decision-making powers with respect to which contractors were hired for work on the property,'' he said.
He said he could not elaborate on what his client told police but said the allegations "involving improprieties at Parker Plaza span many topics and include many individuals.''
Davis has not been charged.
Police also are investigating other people associated with the building, said detective Williams.
Arrests are expected.
Jeffrey Kaplan, a Miami attorney representing board members Wohl, Paris and Beer, said his clients are named because of their positions on the board.
''My clients, we believe to be just innocent board members,'' he said.