Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
Published December 17, 2010
As a property manager, Grace Cushman Cromwell had
the power to write checks from bank accounts of two South Florida
condominium communities. And police say she wrote herself dozens of
checks, allegedly stealing more than $2 million from the condos.
Cromwell was arrested last week by local police
after working for a decade as a property manager at the Melbourne House
Condominium and The Park Place Condominium, both in Palm Beach. Between
2006 and this year, according to police reports, Cromwell deposited
association funds into personal accounts and used the money to pay for
clothing, children's clothing, veterinarian visits and medical bills.
Cromwell and her attorney could not be reached for
comment despite several attempts by phone.
Cromwell was charged with grand theft over $100,000,
organized scheme to defraud, aggravated white collar crime and making
false entries in books of corporations, police records show.
Experts say the case offers a frightening example of
what could go wrong when a condo association or HOA hires the wrong
property manager or outside property management company. It also
highlights how careful condo and homeowners associations must be when it
comes to allowing access to bank accounts.
Don't count on Florida law alone. The help it offers
For instance, state law requires a community
association manager license of anyone paid to manage a condo of 10 or more
units or with an annual budget of $100,000. Police say Cromwell's CAM
licensed expired in September 2002. The law also requires annual audits
from condo associations with revenue of $400,000 or more.
"My first piece of advice to any board,
regardless of condo and HOA statutes, is get an annual audit by a CPA or
other independent professional," said Bill Worrall, vice president at
The Continental Group, the state's largest property management company
with offices in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale
and Boca Raton.
"The risk is always there that someone could
siphon or embezzle money from your association, and you mitigate that risk
by having your financial records reviewed each year by an independent
professional," Worrall said. "Instead of catching a problem that
lasts years and costs your association millions of dollars, you catch it
Whether your association manages its own books via
volunteer board members or hires someone, recommendations include:
Check your insurance. Make sure your property
management company is properly insured against theft claims. Worrall
suggests insuring for the amount equal to the annual revenue amount plus
cash receipts in the bank. So a community with an annual budget of
$400,000 with $100,000 in reserves should make sure the management company
is insured for at least $500,000. Self-managed communities should consider
insurance that would cover theft or embezzlement by a board member.
over bank accounts. No single person should have the power to write a
check, Worrall says. At least two signatures should be required for a
system of checks and balances. Board members should also check bank
account signatory cards each year to make sure the proper board members
are listed. In some cases, board membership changes and owners who are no
longer serving still possess check signing powers.
Daniel Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com
or 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686. His condo column runs Wednesdays in
Your Money and at sunsentinel.com/condos. Check out Daniel's Condos
& HOAs blog for news, information and tips related to life in
community associations at www.sunsentinel.com/condoblog.
You can also read his consumer column Mondays in Your Money and at www.sunsentinel.com/vasquez.