HOA Criminal Probe Widens as Records Seized
A West Kendall HOA’s now-terminated board members allegedly stole millions. A court-appointed receiver was named and attorneys now have access to records.
MIAMI – For years, the board of the troubled Hammocks Community Association in West Kendall has blocked state investigators from getting a trove of financial records that may detail the theft of resident funds.
But with board members now facing allegations of stealing millions, a court-appointed receiver on Tuesday allowed the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office to finally access documents at the association’s clubhouse office, widening the criminal investigation. A team of investigators arrived early Tuesday morning on a prosecution bus, working throughout the day to scan thousands of documents.
One cache of documents was found hidden under the floor of the office.
The seizure unfolded one week after Miami-Dade prosecutors charged four former board members, alleging they schemed to steal over $2 million, writing checks to vendors – for work that was never done – who then kicked back payments, mostly to then-president Marglli Gallego.
Last week, a Miami-Dade civil judge dissolved the current board and placed the association under receivership. The receiver’s team is getting copies of the records as part of a simultaneous probe into the finances of the sprawling suburban community about 20 miles southwest of downtown Miami.
“There are volumes and volumes of documents. We feel optimistic we will find additional evidence of these horrible crimes against these victim homeowners,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in an interview on Tuesday.
She declined to detail the records found, but added: “It’s even worse than we feared.”
The Hammocks Community Association is the largest HOA in Florida, with over 6,500 units and 25,000 residents. In all, five people were arrested so far, including board president Monica Ghilardi, current board member Myriam Rodgers, former board member Yoleidis Lopez Garcia, Gallego and Gallego’s husband, Jose Antonio Gonzalez.
Their defense attorneys have said they will fight the allegations. Gallego remains jailed, while the others have posted bond.
Lawyer Hilton Napoleon, who represented the HOA under the now-dissolved board, declined to comment.
The racketeering and fraud charges stem from a long-running probe that last year resulted in Gallego’s first arrest. Since then, Miami-Dade prosecutors had repeatedly subpoenaed financial documents, but found themselves stymied by HOA lawyers.
Despite judges ordering the HOA to produce financial documents, the association refused to comply, even appealing one judge’s ruling. An appeals court threw out the appeal. At one point earlier this year, an attorney for the board told a Miami-Dade judge the board voted to ignore the judge’s order because “the board doesn’t trust the state.”
Along the way, the sprawling planned community has been in turmoil, its coffers depleted, homeowners hit with 300% to 400% hikes in maintenance fees and the launching of a contentious recall effort against the board. A civil case was filed back in April by resident Ana Danton, who asked a court to place the association in receivership after a botched election, the fee hikes and the belief that HOA funds were being used to pay Gallego’s criminal defense attorneys.
The legal wrangling had dragged on for months until Thursday, two days after the arrests, when Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko appointed the receiver – to rousing applause from residents who crowded the courtroom.
Butchko appointed former Third District Court of Appeals judge David Gersten to manage the affairs of the association and investigate the state of its finances and property, and longstanding allegations of financial shenanigans by the board. She also appointed a temporary “advisory committee” – drawn from a group of residents who had opposed the previous board – and ordered that all documents, hard drives and other potential evidence remain locked up in the office.
“Get a locksmith out there,” she said.
Idalmen “Chicky” Ardisson, a longtime Hammocks resident who is part of the advisory committee, said Tuesday that the seizure of the documents “will put the exclamation point on everything this community has been saying about our money not being used for the community.”
She said: “Finally, we’re going to see how deep this rabbit hole really went.”
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