The Smear Campaign Against The Ombudsman

River Reach Condominiums

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

An Opinion By Jan Bergemann

Posted, Wednesday, January 12, 2005


It was about a year ago that I received a letter from the law firm of BARTHE & LEIGH LLP asking me to remove the reprint of a newsletter that was considered by some River Reach board members -- and obviously this law firm -- as "libel per se."


This article accused board members of the River Reach Condominium of causing the loss of reserve funds that were obviously invested in just one single account with a bank that went belly-up. As every kid in this country should know, the FDIC insures investments of up to only $100,000 for each account. It was my understanding that some of the money was lost due to this kind of investment in a single account. I'm not arguing true or false or the facts being disputed.


As requested, I pulled the reprint from our website.  Even if I didn't see the point of anyone accusing a condo unit owner of libel when he was just trying to protect his money, I pulled the reprint because we have better things to do than fight with law firms that take these kinds of cases.


Maybe I even considered that the board members who might have caused the loss might be embarrassed that making a stupid decision lost association money.  Who likes to see his nose rubbed into mistakes?


But obviously I was wrong in that assumption!  Since December 2004 when Governor Jeb Bush appointed Dr. Virgil Rizzo as Condominium Ombudsman, these same board members have started a smear campaign against their neighbor, Dr. Rizzo.  These same board members, who allegedly lost part of the reserve funds, have now leveled numerous accusations in newspaper articles against Dr. Rizzo.  He is being labeled as a “disruptive” neighbor and a “litigious troublemaker filing baseless claims to harass them.” They even went so far as to write unsigned letters to Governor Bush asking him to reevaluate his appointment of Dr. Rizzo.


From all the information received from various sources one thing seems undeniably clear. Dr Rizzo and some of his neighbors "sued the board alleging it caused condo owners to lose $220,000 in association fees that were deposited in the Hamilton Bank, which collapsed in 2002."  The Miami Herald stated the information was part of public court documents. Even if some of these funds may have been recovered, the actual facts never changed!


Since everybody is obviously allowed to have an opinion -- here is mine:
If there is money missing from the River Reach reserve account -- and it was caused by the investment of these board members as alleged -- then these board members should concentrate their efforts on replacing the money -- not on smearing the people whose money was lost -- and who dare to complain about it.


I think this is a real easy case to decide by answering one single question: "Is all the money that is supposed to be in the reserve fund in an account holding these reserve funds, or is there money missing?"

If actually the accusations are correct and there was money lost, then the board members responsible for the loss should not insult the intelligence of others -- actually condo-owners from all over Florida -- by starting this media smear campaign.


This is a typical example why Florida's condo-owners need an Ombudsman's Office. To avoid these kind of lawsuits and to bring peace and quiet into our homes.