The former manager of a homeowners association in Florida had her hand in the cookie jar, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office.
Stephanie Lopez, who managed a 400-unit condo community in Dunedin, was arrested Feb. 7 and charged with one count of scheme to defraud and one count of grand theft, according to a news release. She’s accused of stealing a little less than $25,000.
Lopez, 56, managed the Mediterranean Manor, in the Tampa suburb, on behalf of her employer, Harbeck Hospitality. Detectives started investigating her last May, after Harbeck notified the sheriff’s department that Lopez was embezzling from the HOA.
She’s accused of spending the money on expenses like paying her mortgage and bills, buying windows for her home in Oldsmar and Amazon purchases.
Those alleged crimes are small potatoes compared to a massive HOA fraud that has come to light in South Florida.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office arrested five people in November 2022, accusing them of fleecing the Hammocks Community Association out of about $2 million.
Members of that HOA, the largest in South Florida, said they were “constantly harassed” for cash, with HOA board members requesting “1,000 for this, another $1,000 for that,” said former resident Lourdes Padron. When she and her spouse received an HOA bill for over $4,000, they moved rather than pay it.
Hammocks residents who complained of opaque finances allegedly were met with more harassment. When resident Manny Coburn signed a petition to recall the board, the former HOA board members retaliated by prohibiting him from community amenities, he said.
The investigation into that epic case took five years, and a sixth person was arrested in December.
Fraud and mishandling of funds runs rampant among South Florida HOAs, according to the hundreds of written complaints lodged against them last year.
The state of Florida doesn’t watchdog HOAs. State law requires annual audits, but those audits don’t have to be submitted anywhere unless records requests are made. Residents who have disputes can opt to sue HOAs at their own expense but otherwise have few sources of recourse.
The Florida legislature took up a bill aimed at tightening regulations last year, in light of the Hammocks scandal, but the law that passed lacked bite.
“Someone else needs to be the gatekeeper who provides sound judgment to protect an association from running amok,” real estate attorney Josh Migdal told The Real Deal last year.