Allegations of fraud by condominium associations in South Florida is nothing new, but the latest case to come to light is shocking in its scope.
And it reveals something else: That investigation into such abuses by local authorities is too infrequent, and many condo residents are left frustrated without the help of the agencies created to protect them.
Last week, el Nuevo Herald reporters Brenda Medina and Enrique Flor, focused the spotlight with their in-depth investigation into possible fraud at The Beach Club condo complex in Fontainebleau Park and other condos in South Florida.
The probe, conducted with the help of Univision 23, uncovered numerous complaints filed by Beach Club residents alleging disturbing irregularities in the administration of their condo complex.
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Among the most egregious discoveries is the forging of signatures of up to 84 condo owners — many linked to an election held last November to select Beach Club board members.
The reporters also found that the board awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a company for complex roof repairs without a proper bidding process, as required by law. Get this: The companies that were listed as offering competing bids were fictitious, el Nuevo’s investigation found.
Days after the first installment was published, Miami-Dade police announced that it is launching an investigation into the allegations of fraud at The Beach Club, which is west of Miami International Airport.
This marks progress, because, in the past, authorities have ignored complaints from several residents of the complex — that’s another one of the series’ findings.
Now, the el Nuevo Herald investigation has laid groundwork for any official probe.
The allegations leveled against The Beach Club association are detailed among hundreds of complaints filed in 2015 by owners of condominiums in Miami-Dade and Broward counties with the Department of Business Regulation and Professional (DBPR), the state agency that oversees the condos in Florida.
It’s not surprising. There are almost 1.6 million condos in the entire state, 38 percent of them in Miami-Dade and Broward.
Authorities now need to get to the bottom of the alleged abuses and give the residents of The Beach Club some answers as to if, and how, they were defrauded, deceived and denied proper representation by their condo association.
Especially troubling is the falsification of owners’ signatures, which tilted the results of the board elections, a criminal offense.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is calling for the creation of an elite unit, including police departments, assigned to curb abuses by condo associations. The series reveals that such a dedicated watchdog unit is sorely needed.
But in the case of The Beach Club, both Miami-Dade police and state prosecutors must take a strong stand and respond quickly to complaints of irregularities that some residents say have fallen on deaf ears for years.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle can, and should, impanel a grand jury to focus on condo-association abuses. And the state should also exercise stricter supervision.
Most important, any wrongdoers unearthed should be prosecuted. Condo owners should be assured of the integrity of the associations meant to represent them.