At least 17 Waterville Valley condo groups missing funds
WATERVILLE VALLEY - At least 17 different condominium associations in the Waterville Valley area reported missing funds to local police last week, triggering a weekend search of the condo management company offices and an investigation that is likely to be turned over to the county attorney or attorney general for prosecution.
Waterville Valley Chief of Police David C. Noyes said the amount reported missing is 'at least' in the tens of thousands of dollars. A search warrant was executed Saturday and Sunday, he said, at the offices of Stone Property Management, 35 Tecumseh Road.
'They do business with 28 different associations in town,' Noyes said. 'Seventeen have come forward so far and made complaints.'
The first complaint arrived last Thursday, he said, followed by a steady stream of others brought by condo association officers or their attorneys to the local police department. 'They have all complained that there is misappropriation of funds,' he said. 'They have been giving us evidence and any documentation they can provide, and we've been taking their statements.'
Noyes said Bill Stone, president of Stone Property Management, was not surprised by the weekend search and has been cooperating with the investigation. Stone was unavailable for comment. His attorney, Peter McGrath of Concord, told WMUR that his client was among those reporting the bookkeeping irregularities to police.
'He and his son, Sean, are cooperating fully with the investigation and have filed the appropriate insurance claims,' he said.
Local police are working closely with State Police in the investigation, which is still in the early stages. 'It will probably be referred either to the county attorney or the Attorney General's Office,' Noyes said. 'That's yet to be determined.'
Stone is by far the most prominent condo management company in the busy resort area, working with 28 of the 35 associations. Despite the large customer volume, the company does not have many employees, according to Noyes, which could narrow the range of suspects. 'There's not that many people,' he said, 'but we haven't named anyone at this time.'
There are nine condo associations managed by Stone Property that have not filed complaints as of Tuesday afternoon, and Noyes said police have not contacted them directly. 'It's quite well-known what's going on in such a small community,' he said. 'We are still taking complaints and if anyone has one, they should certainly come see us.'
Many condominium associations hire a property management company to handle maintenance and other facility issues, while the association's board of directors handles the finances. But it's not unusual to have a management company handle the finances as well, especially in a large condominium development with many seasonal occupants, according to senior assistant attorney general James Boffetti with the Consumer Protection Division.
'The regular collecting of dues and the payment of common expenses takes a fair amount of time and attention,' he said. 'Owners who are essentially volunteering their time (on the board) find that challenging.'
Boffetti said there are steps condo owners can take to protect themselves, including strict controls on the association checking account. 'One of the things to think about is not to authorize (the management company) to withdraw money from the account. The checks to pay for common expense would have to be signed by an officer of the association. If you give someone the authority to write a check, you have put a lot of trust in that person.'
In another unrelated case, an Exeter property manager charged with stealing $67,000 from his clients agreed to plead guilty instead of heading to trial, according to a Sept. 20 report in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Robert Clarke, 53, of Newbury, is accused of taking money from three condominium associations between September 2009 and May 2011, according to indictments.
The website for Condo and Homeowners Association News keeps a list of fraud and embezzlement cases across the country, with page after page of links to newspaper articles and court documents. The Waterville Valley case is the most recent posting.
The list is available at www.communityassociations.net/xmlarticles/fraud_embezzlement.html.
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Dave Solomon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..