By Jonathan H. Katz, Esq.

We hear about different types of fraud everyday – credit-card fraud, identity theft, Ponzi schemes – but association members must also be diligent to guard against fraud within community associations.

Case in point: in September 2012, Vincent Lopez, who served as the property manager of the Plymouth Hill Condominium, was sentenced to a minimum of 56 months in prison and required to pay almost $600,000 in restitution for his role in embezzling funds and defrauding the condominium over the course of nine years. And it did not end with Lopez. Since May of last year, the association’s assistant manager and several contractors who were involved in Lopez’s kickback scheme plead guilty and are now serving prison terms.

More recently, in a story with a much unhappier ending, the embezzlement of at least $400,000 from the Saratoga at Toms River Condominium Association has been linked to its board president, whom authorities said killed himself after he admitted he stole the missing money. Just before his death, Alan Appel was considered the prime suspect in a criminal investigation into the missing funds that began when an attorney for the association contacted Toms River authorities to report the crime.

So, what are some steps board members can take to protect their community associations from fraud?

  • Control Association Finances – No one person (either the manager or a board member) should have exclusive control over the association’s finances. Set a dollar figure above which management will need the co-signature of a board member.
  • Routinely Review Financial Reports and Bank Statements – The association’s treasurer (and/or other board members) and the managing agent should routinely review financial reports and bank statements to ensure no funds are being diverted or bills paid without proper documentation.
  • Monitor Vendors – Obtain multiple bids (at least three) for all contractors and service providers. Periodically review all vendor contracts and invoices to guard against over-ordering and/or double payment.
  • Perform an Annual Audit – Hire an independent auditor to provide an annual audit of the association’s finances.
  • Obtain Proper Insurance – Speak with the association’s insurance broker regarding insurance required by the association’s governing documents and recommended by the broker to protect against fraud, such as a fidelity bond and crime insurance.

Lastly, if you suspect your association may be the victim of fraud, immediately advise your association’s professionals – the association’s accountant and attorney. Association board members do have the power and the duty to control the financial security of association. The greater the effort made to identify possible fraudulent activity, the more successful the board will be in protecting the association and its members.

For more information on this or any other issue concerning your community association, please contact one of our Community Associations attorneys. For breaking news or updates on new blog posts, follow us on Twitter at: @njcondolaw.