Article Courtesy of The Real
By Lidia Dinkova
Published March 15, 2023
In the weeks following the arrests of five people accused of running a
massive fraud at the Hammocks, a court-appointed receiver is working to make
South Florida’s biggest residential community whole.
The management and security firms that once worked at the Hammocks are now
gone, and new firms are being hired, while a hotline for residents to report
problems has fielded over 2,000 calls, receiver David Gersten said during a
court hearing on Thursday. An overhaul of the community’s landscaping is in
store, and an investigation into the former board’s potentially illegal
spending will hopefully claw back misappropriated funds to residents, he
His report comes less than two months after four former board members and
the husband of an ex-board president were arrested on charges tied to
allegations they siphoned roughly $2 million from homeowners association
coffers, which are mainly bankrolled by residents’ assessments.
The Hammocks, which spans 3,800 acres in south Miami-Dade County and has
more than 18,000 residents, also is poised to vote for a new board. The
election is expected in March, said Gersten, who reported the progress he
and his team of attorneys are making at the Hammocks in front of Judge
Beatrice Butchko. He was appointed as receiver in a civil lawsuit resident
Ana Danton filed against the HOA last year. Butchko is overseeing the case.
FirstService Residential was appointed as the new property manager after it
was “double vetted,” and a contract is being negotiated with security
company Elite Guard, which is expected to start working at the Hammocks the
week of Jan. 23, Gersten said.
Under the former HOA leadership, the property manager and security firm did
the ex-board members’ bidding, working as their “henchmen” and targeting
homeowners who raised concerns about mismanagement, according to residents
and the receiver’s report.
For example, security guards with tinted windows on their cars would park in
front of homes of residents who had spoken up, Butchko said in court.
“It was intimidating, so we are not going to participate in that anymore,”
Fort Lauderdale-based Kapila Mukamal has been hired as the forensic
accountant, as the full extent of the alleged theft is yet to be determined.
The ex-board is accused of having ignored state-mandated annual audits of
the HOA’s financials since 2018.
Gersten’s team has discovered 13 HOA bank accounts in four banks, which is
too many and an immediate “red flag,” Gersten said.
“We need to find out if money was blatantly going out the door,” Butchko
“I think your honor’s fear is going to be realized,” Gersten responded,
adding that new information will be shared with the state attorney’s office.
“The homeowners are not going to be happy about it. But we are going to dig
The accounts have a balance of $1.1 million, giving the Hammocks at least
some operating budget to go forward, though there also is a nearly $400,000
loan left to be repaid, he said.
Gersten and his team are diving into the more than 120 lawsuits involving
the Hammocks to find out if some are meritless. But much depends on
obtaining case files from prior HOA attorneys, Gersten said.
This includes possible fraudulent foreclosures filed against residents since
“This is going to be the big kahuna because if people were fraudulently
foreclosed upon, my concern is that members of the prior board could have
been buying these properties at auction, and could own them under
pseudonyms,” Butchko said. “If that is true, then it is a tragedy that
people lost their properties and homesteads.”
At the hearing, some residents raised concerns with the receiver and other
attorney’s fees. Gersten and all other lawyers helping him reduced their
rates, with Gersten dropping his fees by12 percent to $73,000 a month.
“I need the residents to hold onto their hats and understand that this is
going to be expensive for the next couple of weeks, and then we need to try
to recover,” Butchko said.
In the ongoing criminal case, an investigator charges that funds were
siphoned through the use of fake vendors who received HOA funds under the
guise of providing services to the community, such as maintenance. The state
attorney’s office has warned more arrests are likely.
In November, police arrested former board members Marglli Gallego, Myriam
Rodgers, Yoleidis Lopez Garcia and Monica Isabel Ghilardi, as well as
Gallego’s husband, Jose Antonio Gonzalez, who ran two of the allegedly fake
vendor companies. Gallego was HOA president until her first arrest in 2021
over charges of misappropriating funds.
All have pleaded not guilty.
“We are very curious to see what they [authorities] have to support those
allegations, especially as it pertains to Mr. Gonzalez,” attorney Jude
Faccidomo, who represents Gonzalez, previously told The Real Deal.
The Hammocks includes 6,500 single-family homes, apartments and townhouses
stretching between Southwest 120th and 88th streets and between Southwest
147th and 162nd avenues.
The criminal case shone a light on the shortcomings of the state HOA law,
which puts the onus of going after possibly rogue boards on residents — and
not on a governmental authority.
As Gersten and the forensic accountant work to track financial spending,
they will try to recoup funds misappropriated from residents, including
those that could have ended up in foreign accounts.
Gallego is accused of directing some of the misappropriated money sent to a
bank account with her name in her native Colombia, according to the November
The next phase will be to go after the funds “like a bulldog,” Gersten said.
“That’s what I want,” Butchko responded.