Woman accused of stealing $2 million from Palm Beach condos

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Sonja Isger and Cynthia Roldan

Published December 11, 2010

For four years, she fooled her clients as she lived a lavish, Palm Beach-like lifestyle.

Among other things, 51-year-old Grace Cromwell took trips to Las Vegas, bought fine jewelry from Cartier and shopped frequently at Chanel, Gucci and Neiman Marcus. All care of more than $2 million she allegedly stole from two properties she managed, according to Palm Beach police.

After 12 years of managing Park Place on South Lake Drive and Melbourne House on Australian Avenue, Cromwell's 4 1/2-year spending spree left Park Place in foreclosure and both properties in "financial distress," the arrest reports allege.

Palm Beach police arrested Cromwell Thursday morning on charges ranging from organized scheme to defraud to aggravated white collar crime and making false entries in books.

Park Place Homeowners Association manager John Nyheim said Cromwell "pulled a fast one" on elderly board members. He added that all of the expenses required his signature, yet he had no knowledge of them.

A foreclosure notice for a loan they thought had been paid off led Park Place board members to hire accountant Steven Corso - whom Cromwell had fired six years prior without notifying the board - to look at the books.

Grace Cushman Cromwell

After discovering the "fraudulent activity," the report says an attorney and Corso alerted Palm Beach police on Oct. 11.

Police checked with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and found that Cromwell's community association manager's licence - required for managers who handle budgets exceeding $100,000 or more than 10 units - had expired in September 2002.

A subsequent investigation showed that Cromwell had been writing checks payable to "cash" and herself and multiple checks written from Melbourne House to Park Place and vice versa, the report alleged.

She would then deposit the money into one of four personal bank accounts.

Police also found checks written to an American Express business account that she had opened without the knowledge of Park Place's board members.

In addition to financing high-end purchases, Cromwell allegedly used the stolen money to pay for groceries, doctor, dentist and veterinarian bills and gas, police allege. She also wrote checks to her husband, Stephen, and mother, Drina Parkey .

According to police, Cromwell had been using the signatures of two elderly Park Place board members who trusted her. The police report says one has impaired eyesight. The other has a fragmented memory. Neither questioned Cromwell's actions. One them even described her to police as a "pal."

Nyheim, the Park Place manager, told police that, for years, Cromwell led the board to believe that Corso was still employed by Park Place and conducting annual audits.

When the board rehired Corso to investigate the condo's finances, he discovered that Park Place also owed the Internal Revenue Service nearly $300,000 in payroll taxes, according to the report.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Recarey said the investigation into the suspected fraud by Cromwell is continuing.