More than 250 South Florida condo residents marched Saturday through the streets of Doral to demand that authorities take steps to stop a wave of fraud hitting their neighborhoods.
With posters, flags and whistles, the group of protesters marched through downtown Doral shouting about alleged abuses by their board of directors and the private companies hired to manage the condominiums.
“We want our demands heard in Tallahassee,” said William Mendieta, one of the organizers of the march and resident of the Las Vistas condos in Doral. “We have left behind apathy and indifference to unite with other condos so that together we can make one request: Justice!”
It was the fifth public protest since an investigation by el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 in March revealed the systematic frauds facing condos in Miami-Dade County — including at least 84 fraudulent votes in November election for the board of directors at The Beach Club condos in Fontainebleau Park, and a fraudulent bidding process in which a company won a $5.2 million contract in a competition against two front companies.
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The protest involved residents of condos in several municipalities in the county, including Aventura, North Miami Beach, Kendall and Homestead. Condo owners from Broward County also participated in the march.
Mendieta said authorities have started to react to the condo owners’ complaints and are proposing the organization of a special group of detectives from different police departments in the county to investigate complaints of condo fraud. But Mendieta added that the campaign should go further and involve legal changes in Tallahassee.
State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, head of the Miami-Dade delegation in Tallahassee, in fact is working on a broad reform to the condo laws that he expects to submit in November. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez last week promised to go to Tallahassee to support the Diaz efforts.
“We want authorities to fulfill their promises,” said Mendieta. “We don’t want this to remain a promise during an election year.”
The protesters asked for the support of more elected officials.
“Where are our mayors and commissioners? Why are they not marching with us? This affects thousands of families,” shouted Sol Barquero. “We want a solution! Out with corruption!”
For Katherine Castro, president of The Beach Club, the protest Saturday marks an awakening of condo owners who have been abused for years with the complicity or indifference of authorities.
“This march is the beginning of what could be the end of the abuse of working families who find themselves without protection” in their condos, said Castro. “It is time for authorities to confront the companies that manipulate the system to fill their pockets.”
Janvier Villar, an owner at the Buckley Towers condo in North Miami Beach, said she was angry with the inaction by authorities in the face of complaints about fraud in the elections for its board of directors in December. A group of owners is pushing to recall the board members elected in the balloting.
Ana Gutierrez. 74, who lives in a Doral condo, said he took part in the protest to ask other condo owners for advice. She and several others at the march exchanged information about the best way to document and submit complaints about condo fraud to authorities
“Because I asked for information, they threatened me, they even vandalized my car and my house,” said Gutierrez. “I pay the maintenance and everything is dirty. It’s a disaster. I don’t know where the money goes. I have a right to know.”
Aymara Sorhegui, who lives in the Park East condos in Fontainebleau said it was important that residents of different condos unite to push their demands.
“This march is important because it has united us, condo resident, to fight together for changes and stop the abuses that we have been suffering at the hands of corrupt organization,” said Sorhegui
Follow Brenda Medina and Enrique Flor on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar y @kikeflor