Fort Lauderdale developer Glenn Wright arrested

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Paula McMahon

Published February 2, 2011

Fort Lauderdale -- Controversial developer Glenn Wright was arrested Monday, accused of stealing $20,000 from a home owners association and giving it to his rabbi to buy a new property for the Downtown Jewish Center, court records show.

Wright, 57, of Fort Lauderdale was charged with one count of grand theft and is expected to be released later today on $5,000 bond. Investigators say he took the money from the La Preserve Home Owners Association and turned it over to Rabbi Schneur Kaplan, without disclosing the source.

The popular religious center has been in the news in recent years because convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was a member who donated money and had his name on one of the center's buildings. His now defunct law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, handled the closing, investigators said.

Kaplan, the leader of the synagogue, is not accused of any wrongdoing. He told investigators from the Broward Sheriff's Office and State Attorney's Office that he befriended Wright in 2003 when the developer sought spiritual advice and became involved in the center, now at 900 E. Broward Blvd.

Wright soon began making $1,000 donations to Kaplan every month that were paid through subcontractor Hector Heguaboro, Kaplan told investigators.

In November 2006, Kaplan was buying a new building for the center, but he did not have enough money for the closing so he approached Wright and asked for a loan, he said. Wright agreed to lend him the money and a check for $20,000 was issued, though Kaplan said he could not remember if it was delivered to him or directly to Rothstein's law firm.

Broward prosecutor Spencer Multack said the investigation started out when some of Wright's customers who had paid deposits but whose homes had not been completed, complained to prosecutors. The State Attorney's Office began looking into Wright's activities and discovered there were financial irregularities in the home owners association accounts. Residents had also complained that Wright would not let them review the association's books.

Homeowners who started moving in to La Preserve in February 2006 were required to pay maintenance fees of $450 every three months as well as a $500 contribution to the association at the time of purchase. There was about $21,100 in the account before Wright made the loan. He transferred the money to his company La Preserve LLC's account and the loan check came from that account, Sheriff's Detective Michael Johnston wrote in the arrest affidavit.

Kaplan provided proof that he repaid the loan to Wright on March 24, 2008, after Wright's wife, Patricia, contacted the rabbi and said they needed the money back. The repayment was posted to Wright's company account and was never returned to the home owners association account, investigators said. At the time of the loan and repayment, the association's board of directors consisted only of Glenn and Patricia Wright.

Wright was a big name in local luxury construction, but he was also one of the more controversial developers in the city. His showy two-story homes met with opposition from many residents who said he was ruining the character of their older neighborhoods by building "McMansions" on small lots.

He has lost some of his properties to foreclosure since the housing market took a dramatic downturn. He enraged some of the people who bought homes from him because they said he took their deposits but failed to complete their homes. Dozens of civil lawsuits were filed against him by homeowners and subcontractors who said he owed them money or finished homes.

The Wrights later sold all of the assets of their company Glenn Wright Construction & Development, including the home owners association, and the money has not yet been recovered, Johnston wrote.

In December, Wright told prosecutors that he gave Kaplan donations from his personal money but had no recollection of giving him $20,000 to close on the property. Wright identified his signature on the check and said he and his wife were the only people authorized to transfer money out of the account at the time.

Patricia Wright told prosecutors "that she found out through one of her bookkeepers that money was 'mistakenly' given to the rabbi" and she called him and demanded it back.

Multack said that when investigators began questioning people about the alleged financial irregularities, subcontractors who worked on the La Preserve development told them they had been frequently sent to carry out home improvements at former Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Cindi Hutchinson's residence, while she was on the commission.

Hutchinson and Wright's former business partner Steve Goldstrom were arrested on Friday.

Hutchinson was charged with accepting several thousand dollars worth of home improvements to her residence, arranged by Goldstrom, according to court documents. Prosecutors said the renovations were an illegal "thank you" gift for Hutchinson's votes in favor of zoning changes for Wright and Goldstrom's La Preserve and Georgian Oaks developments. She plans to plead not guilty, her lawyer said Friday.

Goldstrom was charged with one count of perjury, accused of lying to investigators when they questioned him. Wright has not been charged in connection with the public corruption allegations. He told investigators that although he signed off on some of the payments to subcontractors for repairs and renovations at Hutchinson's house, he did not know the work was for her.