Broward condo swindler gets 20 years in prison

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published September 5, 2008

A Broward County man who stole nearly $1 million from a condominium community made up primarily of trusting senior citizens will spend the next 20 years in prison and will have to pay the money back with interest, a judge ruled Friday.

Christopher Winkelholz, 27, preyed on the residents of the Whitehall Condominium Association in Davie for more than two years before he was caught as he was about to flee the country to Argentina in 2007, prosecutors said.

''This was a complex scheme to defraud those who trusted you,'' said Circuit Judge Pedro Dijols, who also sentenced Wilkelholz to 15 years' probation. "These people saw you as their knight in shining armor, and that made it easier for you to do your scheme.''

Police found that Winkelholz befriended neighbors at the condominium, 1527 White Hall Dr., and was elected treasurer of the board, which gave him access to the group's funds. He then set up a fake cleaning-service company and wrote checks from the condo association's account to the phony company, forging the names of some residents.

He was caught when one of the names he forged on a check was that of a deceased, former resident.

In total, Wilkenholz stole $920,000, which he used to take expensive trips, buy fancy cars and live a lavish lifestyle, prosecutors said. He was convicted of grand theft and forgery earlier this year.

''He is a parasite who lived off the sweat of other people,'' said condo resident Peter Trapani, the man who first questioned Winkelholz about the association's funds. "He was a trusted friend and a neighbor, and he robbed us.''

Trapani said six families have gone into foreclosure since the theft and one family is in bankruptcy. ''That money could have made a difference,'' he said.

The scheme started in January 2005, when Winkelholz moved into the condominium. He worked as a handyman and helped many of the elderly couples before seizing his opportunity to join the association board, prosecutors said.

After Hurricane Wilma hit the area in 2005, Winkelholz persuaded the board to impose a special assessment to pay for repairs. He used the money to help buy three new cars, a boat and travel to Argentina and the Dominican Republic, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, minimal repairs were made at the condominium.

Davie residents: Imprison condo chief who stole $759,654