MIAMI (WSVN) - Leaders of Florida’s largest homeowners association are being charged in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.
Investigators arrested five members and vendors of the Hammocks Community Association who oversee 40 communities and over 6,000 units in West Kendall.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office on Tuesday afternoon announced charges against former HOA president Marglli Gallego and her husband, Jose Antonio Gonzalez, as well as current HOA president Monica Isabel Ghilardi, board member Myriam Arango Rodgers and former board member Yoleidis Lopez Garcia.
“Racketeering and money laundering are terms we usually associate with drug cartels,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Investigators said the people who were arrested swindled over $2 million from the organization’s finances and keeping the money for themselves for years.
“Never would anyone have connected such serious criminal allegations to one of the largest homeowner associations in Florida,” said Fernandez Rundle. “The charges stem from misappropriating board funds to [Gallego’s] own use.”
Prosecutors said the planned community of more than 18,000 people has been in chaos. Residents reported paying high HOA fees, and there was also a recall effort against the HOA board.
“It was fine until this new board took over. It’s gone to crap,” said Hammock Trails resident Shannon Baratz. “I’m paying almost $500 in an HOA. That’s ridiculous.”
Baratz showed 7News the receipts of payments she made in October and November.
“They’re all just using and abusing our money, and the ones that are paying for it is us,” she said. “I’ve had one hell of a year. That’s all can say. This has really set me back. I didn’t want to lose my house, so what else could I do? They were threatening to take it away if I don’t pay them.”
Florida State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who represented the Hammocks community, sent a letter to Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez III. In it, she said she received a threatening phone call while watching an HOA election in January.
In her letter, Taddeo wrote that she believes it was used as a “reason to cancel all in-person voting for the hundreds of residents who had been waiting in line to vote for over two hours.”
MDPD officers responded, but they said they were unable to trace the call.
Now, as more board members are facing charges, residents said they’re thankful to see it.
“Thank God, and you know what? Happy Thanksgiving. This is a great holiday. Finally we got some good news for us owners,” said Baratz.
Fernandez Rundle said the case is not closed, describing the arrests as the initial phase. Additional arrests could be made.
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