Man, 83, pleads guilty in

$1.4 million condo kickback scheme

A former condominium president, accused of helping bilk millions from property owners, has pleaded guilty.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published November 1, 2007 

The first man charged in a $1.4 million condominium kickback scandal has become the first to end his criminal case, pleading guilty to organized fraud.

Joseph Greenberg, 83, was one of four men accused earlier this year of partaking in a scheme in which the condo board approved inflated estimates for work at the building and a contractor would kick back the extra money to Greenberg and the other two.

Investigators estimate the group bilked $1.4 million over several years from residents of Parker Plaza Estates, 2030 S. Ocean Dr. in Hallandale Beach.

On Friday, Greenberg pleaded guilty to one charge of organized fraud, said his lawyer, Scott Saul. A charge of illegal banking deposits was dropped, Saul said.

The other three men charged -- contractor Ira Silver, 62, condo manager Robert Hittner, 59, and property supervisor Angel Ramos, 78 -- are moving ahead with their cases and have a hearing set for Dec. 20.

Saul said his client was an old man who would rather cooperate with authorities than age in jail.

''He's 83. He doesn't want to die in jail. He made a payment to guarantee what his future would be,'' Saul said. "You can't take it with you.''

Greenberg agreed to pay $250,000 to Parker Plaza and turned over ownership of his condo there to the association, although he is allowed to live there as long as he wants, Saul said.

Joseph Greenberg was one of four men accused earlier this year of partaking in a condo kickback scheme.

The $250,000 was an arbitrary amount, Saul said, because of the difficulty determining exactly how much money each man pocketed.

''The money he had in savings. He saved it for a rainy day,'' Saul said. "It was pouring last Friday.''

Greenberg also will serve seven years of probation, but he will be allowed to travel and won't have scheduled visits with a probation officer, Saul said.

Greenberg hasn't formally agreed to be a prosecution witness, Saul said, but he could be called to testify.

Greenberg, a retiree from Canada, was president of the 520-unit building until he was voted out of office, along with his other board members, in February 2006. Hittner was the condo manager, and Ramos was the property supervisor.

Silver was the contractor who would collect the money for work, cash the checks and give some back.

State Rep. Julio Robaina, who has fought for more protection of property owners in associations, heralded the guilty plea, especially that Greenberg had agreed to pay back money.

''That's a great thing that there's restitution,'' the South Miami Republican said. "No one wants an 80-something to go to jail.''

The conviction, he added, ''makes me feel good about what we are doing'' to teach local police agencies to look for community association fraud.

"It proves that no one is going to get off the hook. For me, this is a victory for everyone that lives in condos.''

Added Democratic state Rep. Joe Gibbons, whose district includes Parker Plaza: "That is justice.''

But Jan Bergemann, founder of the condo crime website Cyber Citizens for Justice, decried what he considered too lenient a sentence, even if Greenberg was elderly.

''First of all, at Parker Plaza, they estimate $1.4 million was stolen,'' he said. "Now if he pays a quarter of a million, who pays the rest? Then he gets off scot-free? Without jail time? He committed crimes when he was 79 so why shouldn't he go to jail in his 80s? I think it is absolutely a slap in the wrist.''