Shelton Condo Owners Arrested While Investigating Property Manager They Believe Was Double Billing
Copyright 2012 CtCondoNews.com
Three Shelton condo owners who are investigating the property manager of their complex because they believe he billed them improperly, were arrested today after the manager accused them of stealing documents, according to police.
Joseph Miller, 79, was the first one arrested today when he turned himself in to Trumbull police after receiving a letter informing him that a warrant had been issued accusing him and two fellow condo owners of sixth degree larceny, said deputy Trumbull police chief Michael Harry, who said he wasn’t intimately aware of the case.
Kathy Benedetto, 56, and Joan Pagliuco, 66, of the same complex – Sunwood Condominiums – turned themselves in today and were also booked.
The charges were made by Gary Knauf, owner of County Management in Trumbull, and an employee – who only identified herself to CtCondoNews as Darleen. According to Benedetto, the two (Knauf and Darleen) told police that the three walked out of the County Management office without paying the $205 fee for copies of financial documents relating to their investigation of Knauf. Police confirmed the gist of the complaint.
“I guess they asked for copies of documents,” Harry said. “They stayed in the office for three hours and left. The took everything without paying $205 for it.”
Harry said all three will be released on written promises to appear in court.
The three deny stealing the documents. Pagliuco, after her arrest, said no one asked for any money. They had brought a check with them. When they did not see Knauf and Darleen they assumed that the two left the building, and they would be sent an invoice.
“I just can’t believe he stooped to this level to hide something,” Pagliuco said. “The documents weren’t his. They belong to us and the association.”
Benedetto said they later found out the copying charge was less than $16. However, the research charge to find the documents was probably $190.
The case raises many questions including whether the documents really belong to Knauf or to the association, which of course the three belong to. State law indicates that financial documents are owned by the association and have control of them unless they have formally turned them over to the property manager.
Another question is why it took months for the three to get the financial documents. The condo owners requested help from the Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition in getting the financial documents after their email requests to the president were ignored. As a member of the executive committee of the CCOC I suggested to them that they attend the next meeting of the condo board, bring copies of their request specifying which documents they wanted, and to give them to all board members and to Knauf. Their request was eventually honored, but they were told to get the documents in the Trumbull property manager’s office. They were told they would have to pay for them.
“This is the most outrageous allegation possible,” said Brian Harte, President and Chairman of the Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition. “This well educated group came to seek guidance from the CCOC in response to documented circumvention by the management company of legal orders and well researched probability of mismanagement of funds.”
“This team was trying to find the truth. They requested documents that were no different than a private homeowner being able to look at their own checkbook. The CCOC is concerned with the police department’s and prosecutor’s office judgement in this case in issuing the arrest warrants. There are specific condo laws that give these rights to owners and the association and management company should be well aware of that.”
“There is no doubt that this is just the beginning of a much larger story,” Harte said.
The three – along with at least one other condo owner – have spent months investigating whether County Management double billed the complex and its role in building projects where required building permits were not sought prior to the work. They are also investigating OSHA violations by the workers hired by the manager.
The three were members of the condo association ByLaws Committee, but were thrown off the committee after the incident.
“Due to a reported incident, in which you were reported to be involved, which occurred at the Office of County Management on or about Friday, June 29, 2012 and which is currently under investigation by the Trumbull Pd., this is formal notification that you are suspended from the ByLaws Committee pending the disposition of the Trumbull Pd. investigation,” condo president Phil Napolitano wrote them in an email.
A roofer died at the complex this year after he fell 39 feet while installing a skylight.
“Francisco Amaral, 46, of Bridgeport, was taken to Bridgeport Hospital after the Feb. 14 accident. He later died from blunt head trauma,” according to the Connecticut Post.
“An inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Bridgeport office also was at the complex this week after the agency received a complaint that roofers weren’t wearing fall protection. Local police, following Amaral’s death, said it didn’t appear he was wearing a safety harness,” the post wrote on June 23.
“We went there after receiving a call that there might be safety hazards, that workers weren’t wearing fall protection,” said John Donnelly, the onsite inspector for OSHA.
Joe Miller had served on the Board of Directors for over a year and ended his tenure in March of 2012. He said asked one simple question of the rest of the Board and of Knauf at each monthly meeting, “Can someone provide a copy of the financials that a layman like me can understand?”
Miller said he neither got a decent reply nor anything that was easy to follow. He said that he resigned thinking that he cold do “greater good” from the outside than he could from the inside.
“Everything about Sunwood is controlled by Gary (the Propery Manager) and not the board who are supposed to be directing Knauf.” Miller said.
As Miller was turning himself in for the arrest warrant, Miller said that he asked of the booking Officer, “So this is how a 79 year old man that served his country gets treated?” Miller is a war-time veteran of the Korean War.
And as for Benedetto, she said after her arrest: “This is not going to stop us from continuing our investigation.”
Watch for more demands for documentation.