HOMEOWNERS living in a neighborhood plagued by legal problems received $2 million after accusing HOA board members of laundering their fees.
Residents of the Hammocks in Miami-Dade County, Florida, reached a settlement against the latest round of former HOA members caught up in an alleged years-long scheme.
Although the settlement was for $2 million, an investigation launched by Hammocks administrator David Gersten revealed that the alleged fraud was more than $3 million. The only true Reports.
The HOA drama began in November when police accused former President Marglli Gallego of masterminding a scheme to deprive residents of their fees and pocket the money.
She was arrested along with her husband Juan Antonio Gonzalez, former president Monica Ghilardi and two former board members Myriam Rogers and Yolesdis Lopez.
The arrests were part of a years-long problem with some residents flagging problems as early as 2017.
Gersten was hired to investigate the problem but collected high fees that residents feared would bankrupt the HOA, which serves about 18,000 people.
In April, he filed a civil lawsuit implicating four other people in the scheme: Ligia Capielo, Merlene Kopec, Madeline Maceda and Luz Ordonez.
The crew was never prosecuted, but the lawsuit alleged they failed to keep their arrested colleagues under control by allegedly letting them funnel funds without documentation.
Wednesday’s settlement concluded the lawsuit after the former board members agreed to a payout even though they denied any wrongdoing.
In July, a judge denied her request to dismiss the lawsuit and negotiations began.
The case against the ex-president continues as it emerged that she allegedly planned to steal money by writing checks to non-existent companies and pocketing the money herself.
Early in the investigation, Gersten claimed to have uncovered more than $3.4 million in embezzled funds.
Gallego was charged with racketeering, money laundering and grand theft and was first arrested in 2021 on allegations that she stole $60,000.
Prosecutors said at the time that they had hired a private investigator to spy on neighborhood rivals.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle described the crew as “real criminals” who primarily targeted a working-class community.
“They put the money of hard-working families, retirees and their neighbors into the pockets of Ms. Gallego and her husband,” she said.
According to Fernandez Rundle, there could be more arrests in the future.
Homeowners have said they look forward to the return of some of their allegedly stolen funds but are worried about the unclear timeline.
“If the receivership continues at this pace, we become concerned about the sustainability of the HOA and the future of our real estate assets in this working-class community,” new board treasurer Marcoantonio Real said in August.
But some residents think the investment is worth it and are confident that Gersten will get his money back.
Longtime resident Don Kearns reminded the community that Gersten said the majority of expenses would be billed at the outset.
“You’re not going to wipe out seven years of a criminal enterprise in seven months,” Kearns said.
“Judge Butchko, out of desperation, pulled out the hammocks, removed a panel that was terrorizing residents, and installed a receiver without which this would be truly ugly.
“No one is happy with high legal fees, but David Gersten deserves a chance to get our money back.”
“I am the most experienced board member and there is no chance that I could have figured this fiasco out on my own.”
“A lawyer in a small shop couldn’t do that either. Every time you turn around there’s another rabbit hole.”