Hammocks receiver says “insider” HOA vendors aided alleged fraud scheme
Civil lawsuit takes aim at three firms that received $2M, combined, from association coffers

Article Courtesy of  The Real Deal

By Lidia Dinkova
Published February 10, 2024


A year after ex-Hammocks board members were charged with running a massive fraud, the homeowners association’s receiver accused former HOA vendors of playing an “insider” role in the scheme.

The lawsuit marks the latest chapter in the Hammocks fiasco. In November 2022, prosecutors charged former board presidents Marglli Gallego and Monica Ghilardi, as well as two other ex-board members, of misappropriating HOA funds by hiring bogus maintenance and other contractors that did no work. When the association paid the vendors, some of the former board members diverted funds to themselves, according to an arrest affidavit.

Since then, David Gersten, the court-appointed receiver overseeing Hammocks affairs after the charges, has claimed in civil suits that others, aside from those criminally charged, either turned a blind eye or in some way participated in the fraud. In that, the Hammocks became the first major case in which association vendors are accused of wrongdoing. Although claims of mismanagement abound across South Florida communities governed by associations, most take aim at board members.

The Hammocks, which has more than 5,500 single-family homes, apartments and condos, sits on 3,800 acres between Southwest 120th and 88th streets and between Southwest 147th and 162nd avenues. It’s one of the biggest HOA’s in Florida.

In the latest filing, Gersten sued Jesus Cue and his accounting firm Worldwide Business Solution; Raul H. Gonzalez-Cortina and his security services provider Off Duty Services of SOFL; and Javier Ceppi and his computer and tech services vendor CompuFix. The three vendors received nearly $2 million, combined, from association coffers from 2019 to 2022, even though they worked against the HOA’s best interest, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint was filed in November in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, marking the sixth lawsuit filed by Gersten. Last year, he filed four suits against ex-HOA attorneys and one against non-criminally charged former board members. The case against ex-board members and two of the suits against law firms settled after insurers agreed to tender the full limit of their policies, amounting to a total of $2.8 million in collections from the carriers.

In his latest lawsuit, Gersten claims Cue helped Ghilardi incorporate Albri Consulting, an entity managed by her husband, Dante Chauca, and aided in preparing association checks to Albri. Yet, Cue knew Albri provided no goods or services to the Hammocks, or at least hadn’t seen records showing the entity did any work for the HOA, according to the complaint. Through Albri, Ghilardi funneled association funds to herself and her family.

Cue and Worldwide received $637,000.00 from the HOA’s coffers from 2019 to 2022, the suit says.

An attorney for Cue and Worldwide denied the allegations, saying they provided legitimate and necessary services.

“My client came into the Hammocks association, organized their banking records, their accounts, their statements and all the other financial information that was required,” said attorney Lorne Ethan Berkley. “I have spoken with the association’s CPAs who have all confirmed that Worldwide and its principal, Mr. Cue, actually provided these services.”

As for Albri, Cue created the entity after he was told it was to provide HOA security services, Berkley said.

“It was not opened with any particular motive or purpose of ‘funneling association funds,’ which is what it is alleged,” he said. “If that is what was done with it, my client certainly didn’t have any knowledge.”

Gersten accuses Gonzalez-Cortina and his one-man firm Off Duty Services of SOFL of providing personal security services to Gallego and Ghilardi, yet receiving $409,883 from association coffers. Ceppi and CompuFix, which received $923,892 from the association, aided Gallego and Ghilardi in falsifying HOA election votes, allowing them to keep their power, according to the complaint.

Gonzalez-Cortina and Ceppi could not be reached for comment.

Gallego was elected as board treasurer in 2015 and became president in 2017. Ghilardi, who had been on the board since 2016, became president after Gallego was first arrested in 2021 on charges of association theft, according to the complaint. Aside from Gallego and Ghilardi, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office charged in 2022 ex-board members Myriam Rodgers and Yoleidis Lopez Garcia, as well as Gallego’s husband, Jose Antonio Gonzalez, who is accused of running some of the bogus vendors.

All of those changed have pleaded not guilty. Attorneys for Gallego, Ghilardi and Garcia didn’t immediately return requests for comment. Rodger’s attorney declined comment. Gonzalez’s attorney has denied the allegations against him.

“While the outrage of the homeowners is certainly understandable, we believe it is misplaced as related to Mr. Gonzalez,” attorney Jude Faccidomo said in a statement. “We look forward to thoroughly vetting any evidence provided by the state, especially as it pertains to our client.”