Lawsuit claims Winter Springs mayoral candidate received kickbacks from HOA landscaper

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel.

By Martin E. Comas

Published September 19, 2018

A homeowners association has filed suit accusing a Winter Springs mayoral candidate of authorizing a company to perform maintenance projects in the neighborhood, setting the prices and then receiving kickbacks from the company while he served on a landscaping and maintenance committee.

Winding Hollow Homeowners Association is seeking at least $2,500 in damages from former association board member Ken Spalthoff, according to a civil lawsuit filed in circuit court.

However, after a recent investigation by the Winter Springs Police Department state prosecutors determined that no money was fraudulently taken from the homeowners group, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office said in a written statement.

“All services appeared to have been done at below market value and to the satisfaction of the HOA [homeowners association] and its members,” said the statement released by Todd Brown with the State Attorney’s Office in Viera. “The evidence determined the homeowners approved of the projects and were pleased with the results. There was no evidence that the fees charged were inflated or padded to compensate for the commission paid to Spalthoff.”

Brown added that state law prohibits state or county officers from similar arrangements, but it is “not applicable to HOA board members.”

Spalthoff served as a member of the association’s board of directors and chairman of the association’s landscaping and maintenance committee from 2011 through 2017.

Spalthoff is running for mayor of Winter Springs and will face incumbent Charles Lacey in the Nov. 6 general election.

In an email to the Sentinel, Spalthoff said the issue is politically driven, calling them “false claims fueled by my opponent and pure dirty politics in Winter Springs.” He added that it’s an effort “by my opponent to simply sling mud and tarnish my name.”

In February 2013, the Winding Hollow neighborhood, a subdivision of roughly 200 homes just south of State Road 434, hired Florida Land Experts of Oviedo, or FLE, to do general maintenance and repairs of the association’s property. The association also set up a separate fund to pay FLE for any extra work not specified in its contract, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 17.

The association claims in the suit that Spalthoff approved, without the association’s knowledge, special projects for FLE to do and then direct the company a price to invoice the association. After the association paid FLE, the maintenance company “would turn over to [Spalthoff] the money demanded by [Spalthoff],” the lawsuit says.

According to the suit, Spalthoff received kickbacks ranging from $25 to $500 for several projects he directed FLE to perform between 2014 and 2017.

According to a July 3, 2014, email included in the suit, for example, Spalthoff directed FLE to remove a decorative boat that was floating “half sunk” in a neighborhood pond and “charge the HOA $200.00. Throw me $50 when you get paid.”

He also directed FLE to “charge the Hoa $600 and throw me $100” to remove mulch, according to the email filed with the lawsuit.

But Spalthoff, in his email to the Sentinel, said the emails are fake and presented two versions of the emails to show that they were doctored with the statements to give him $50 and $100 added in.

Attorney Michael Jones, who represents Winding Hollow in its lawsuit, said Spalthoff clearly violated the association’s rules by using his position on the boards to benefit himself.

“It’s clearly a violation of his fiduciary responsibility,” Jones said. “They [association members] didn’t know any of this was going on. It was clearly not in the best interests of the HOA. He was stealing from the neighbors, and that’s what incited everybody.”

When association board members became aware of Spalthoff’s actions in August 2017 after being alerted by FLE owner Justin Herring, they notified the Winter Springs Police Department, Jones said.

Jones said the association is still tabulating the total amount of money Spalthoff received in kickbacks or commissions.

Herring said he didn’t want to comment but plans eventually to release a statement.