2 arrested in probe of condo kickbacks

Two arrests have been made and more are expected after a 17-month investigation into financial fraud at a Hallandale Beach condominium.

Article Courtesy of Miami Herald


Published May 24, 2007

A contractor and a former condo manager were arrested Wednesday in a Hallandale Beach fraud case that investigators say could reach into the millions of dollars.

The 17-month investigation of financial doings at Parker Plaza Estates condo is expected to yield two more arrests -- including a former condo president.

Hallandale Beach police announced the arrests in a meeting Wednesday with state lawmakers and condo residents. They outlined a simple plot showing how at least one board member at Parker Plaza Estates allegedly created a kickback scheme with a contractor and two others, skimming money earmarked for renovations and upkeep of the 520-unit building, at 2030 S. Ocean Dr.

''We were friends with some of these people,'' said Ellie Pinkus, wife of the board's current president, Donald Pinkus. ''One of the men ate at my house, and it makes my blood boil that while he had our food in his stomach, he also had his hand in our pockets,'' Pinkus said.

Police said the ongoing investigation shows that the stealing started in 2003. But it is unclear how 

When asked how far-reaching the fraud was, Hallandale Beach Detective Eric Williams said, 'I don't know if we can ever answer that question.'

far-reaching the fraud was -- and how much money residents, mostly retirees from the northeast and Canada, may have lost.

''I don't know if we can ever answer that question,'' said detective Eric Williams, of the city's Economic Crimes unit.

Arrested so far are former condo manager Robert Hittner, 59, of Cooper City, and independent contractor Ira Silver, 62, of Fort Lauderdale. Both were charged with organized fraud. They bonded out of jail late Wednesday.

If convicted, each man could face up to 15 years in prison.

Former condo president Joseph Greenberg, 83, is expecting to be arrested and will turn himself in on Friday, said his attorney, Scott Saul.

''We don't anticipate a trial,'' Saul said Wednesday. ``We are not having an adversarial relationship with law enforcement.''

Greenberg already has admitted taking part in the fraud, Williams said.

He already faces charges of violation of banking regulations for allegedly improperly depositing almost $200,000 over a period of a year into several personal bank accounts.

A warrant has been issued for a fourth person, but police would not name him.


Police gave this account of how the scheme worked: A board member would work with two condo association employees to create overestimates for work that needed to be done at the H-shaped condo. Property manager Hittner would make recommendations for the work. Contractor Silver would collect the money, cash the checks and give some back.

Investigators still are adding up how much was lost, but they say Silver kicked back at least $1.4 million over several years to parties that police will not identify.

''There were many kickback transactions that took place, and although not present for all of them, this employee still received a percentage to stay silent,'' a police case summary said of one unidentified employee of a contracting firm who was given immunity in exchange for his testimony.

The board also agreed to a recommendation to take out a line of credit, eventually taking on $11 million in debt. The condo association still is responsible for that debt.

In November 2005, by the time the condo manager suggested a $14.3 million project for hurricane doors and windows, the kickback plan was in full swing, investigators say.

Robert Fisher, who recently stepped down as board president after serving one year, remembers unit owners were in an uproar, but the old nine-member board would not listen.

''We knew the numbers didn't add up,'' Fisher said.

Unit owners tried unsuccessfully to oust the board, the majority of which had been serving since the late 1990s.

They finally elected a board will all new faces in February 2006.


Unit owners were suspicious of all the big-ticket items.

Fisher started a grass-roots campaign for change. He ran into unit owners in the lobby. One said, ''If you hire an attorney, I'm in,'' he recalled.

Eventually, Fisher collected $225 apiece from 150 unit owners -- enough to hire an attorney.

Last year, Fisher helped bring a civil suit against 12 people -- including the nine former board members and the condo association itself.

That case, alleging mismanagement and negligence, will continue.


Some board members named in the civil suit said they had nothing to do with fraud and expressed shock over the arrests.

''I am not saying that everyone has clean hands, but my hands aren't dirty,'' said Maxine Paris, who served from 2003 to 2005.

``If I saw anything going wrong, it would not have gone on.''

As for the hurricane windows and doors, when the new board finally was in place, they had the same project done for some $9 million less.