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Oct 15th
Condo Crimes, Part 3 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Francisco Alvarado, BT Contributor   
August 2019

Reform meets reality as condominium owners complain that state laws have little bite

NCondoCrime_1early two years ago, Donovan Staley, property manager at the Admiral’s Port Condominium in Aventura, was arrested and charged with stealing cash from the condo association and attempting to shake down an electrical contractor for $6000 in kickbacks.

After Staley’s arrest, Miami-Dade law enforcement officials held a press conference to highlight the fact that his was the first major bust under beefed-up criminal penalties for condo association corruption.

Despite that, Staley won’t see a day in prison.

On June 3, he pleaded no contest to felony charges of organized fraud and third-degree grand theft. Court records show he’ll spend the next seven years on probation. As part of his plea, adjudication would be withheld, which means he can have his criminal record expunged upon completion of his probation.

Omar Johanssen, Staley’s criminal defense attorney, says his client is glad to put the case behind him. “He is moving forward with his life, and he is going to pay back the money,” Johanssen says. “He is remorseful.”

For condo association reform activists, Staley’s lenient plea deal is a disappointing outcome that affirms condo-related crimes receive scant punishment. “As to the charges against the former manager...and the disposition of that case, it’s a travesty of justice,” says Robert P. Kelly, the lawyer for Admiral’s Port. “The sentence was a mere slap on the wrist.”

A November 2018 Biscayne Times story documented how the sluggish progress of Staley’s case, as well as a perplexing caper involving $72,000 stolen from another Aventura condo association, raised doubts about state laws passed in 2017 that were intended to make it easier to prosecute individuals involved in condominium-related misconduct and unethical activities (see “A Tale of Two Condos: Skimming, Kickbacks, and Other Crimes”).

CondoCrime_2

Today both condominiums -- Admiral’s Port and the Coronado -- are mired in escalating turmoil while the criminal cases have faltered in exposing corruption beyond the arrests of low-level conspirators. “It’s a never-ending story, and it’s getting worse,” says Francisca Wildi, a Coronado unit owner who was on the building’s board of directors from 2017 until this past January.

In March 2018, Wildi filed a complaint with the Aventura Police Department after discovering a series of electronic withdrawals from her association’s operating bank account between September 2017 and February 2018. The total amount withdrawn: $72,000.

According to an Aventura investigative police report, the money was deposited into a TD Bank account belonging to a 34-year-old woman named Maria Lola Martin, who had no connection to the Coronado, a complex of three high-rise residential towers built in the 1970s along W. Country Club Drive.

As noted in that same police investigation, at the time Wildi reported the incident, she also learned that Coronado’s then-board president, Jeffrey Luxenberg, found out about the missing $72,000. He closed the account, but did not report the theft to law enforcement authorities or other board members. “I’m still trying to figure out why the president let 21 days pass without telling us anything,” Wildi says. “When things like that happen, it’s your responsibility to report it to the authorities and the board.” Luxenberg was not questioned by police.

Later that year, in August, investigators arrested Martin on 22 felony counts, including grand theft and organized fraud over $50,000. However, eight months ago, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Martin after she pinned the bank account heist on her boyfriend, a man named Andres Andriq.

A close-out memo states that prosecutors subsequently learned $68,000 deposited into her account was then transferred to a bank account for a company called The Tax Firm, which Martin said belonged to Andriq. A search of her phone also revealed messages between Martin and Andriq that indicated he ultimately controlled the funds in her account.

CondoCrime_3Authorities apparently have not been able to locate Andriq, and because the case is ongoing, the State Attorney’s Office and the Aventura Police Department declined comment.

“I was taken aback when I found out about Martin,” Wildi says. “The Aventura police detective assured me they haven’t dropped the case, but that the State Attorney’s Office is now leading the investigation.”

Wildi tells the BT she decided not to seek another term on the Coronado’s board because she spent more than a year trying to investigate the association’s finances and got nowhere. “We are still having problems with spending money without any proper controls,” she says. “We get an invoice for $75,000 in materials and no one asks what materials we’re getting. They just sign the checks.”

Meanwhile, the corruption uncovered at Admiral’s Port has failed to yield any satisfactory results for unit owners in that complex, which is located at 2801 NE 183rd St. On November 30, 2018, the Admiral’s Port Condominium Association sued former board members Renato Snitcovski and Jaye Chipy, alleging they engaged in fraud and breached their fiduciary duties.

It was an unexpected twist, given that Chipy filed the Aventura Police complaint against Staley that initiated the criminal probe into his crimes. She also provided investigators with copies of security camera footage that captured Staley regularly pilfering cash from the laundry room in one of the Admiral’s Port towers.

The lawsuit alleges that depositions of Staley and other witnesses will lead to other defendants being added to the litigation “because there is no reasonable, feasible, [or] logical way” the former property manager was working alone or without assistance from Admiral’s Port board members. Kelly, the Admiral’s Port attorney, did not want to comment on the lawsuit. Robert Moran, Snitcoviski’s lawyer, and Alice K. Sum, Chipy’s attorney, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Chipy was a friend of Felix Adam, an Admiral’s Port unit owner who settled a lawsuit against the association in 2017. Two years earlier, Adam had sued Admirals Port, alleging the association was responsible for reparing his condo’s concrete floor due to corrosion damage identified in a 2014 engineering report. The report included an estimate for $69,646 in repairs and a handwritten note signed by Chipy that said “approved.”

The current Admiral’s Port condominium association claims the estimate shows that the concrete work was only $25,175, but it also tacked on $26,900 for new tile and wood flooring installation, $4640 to remove damaged wood, and $8000 for furniture removal and installation of a “dust wall.”

CondoCrime_4With Chipy leading the board, the association then authorized a settlement that entailed purchasing Adam’s unit for $310,000, more than $100,000 above its estimated fair-market value, the association’s lawsuit claims.

Adam declined comment, citing the terms of his settlement, but Miami-Dade property records show that Admiral’s Port bought his unit on March 29, 2017. One week later, Adam dismissed his complaint. A year after that, on September 14, 2018, the association sold the unit for $152,000, less than half the amount it paid.

In 2016, Snitcovski took over the role of board president and executed several agreements with a renovation company to work on the common areas of Admiral’s Port, the lawsuit states. The then-president, his family members, and friends allegedly hired the same firm to renovate units they owned.

Admiral’s Port current board claims the renovation company completed less than 25 percent of the project, despite being paid in excess of $290,000. But the company did complete renovations to the units owned by Snitcovski and his associates, the lawsuit claims.

In motions to dismiss the complaint, the lawyers for Chipy and Snitcovski contend the lawsuit makes vague, ambigous, and “conclusory” allegations. The motions to dismiss also claim that state law grants the former board members immunity from liability over actions they made in their official capacity as officers of the association.

In its lawsuit, Admiral’s Port current board members suggest that, as part of his favorable plea deal, Staley might already have provided prosecutors and investigators with information that could lead to more arrests involving Admiral’s Port corruption. His lawyer, Johanssan, would not comment on whether his client implicated other individuals.

Kelly, Admiral’s Port legal counsel, is not holding his breath. “Unless more arrests are made in the very near future based upon information allegedly provided by Staley to the police, which I very much doubt will occur,” he says, “this sentence can only serve to encourage other unscrupulous managers to steal because the punishment for same is a joke.”

 

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