Former Bon Aire Condominium One Complex Treasurer Kostantina Gardner, 25 Haskell Avenue, Suffern, 51-years-old, has been indicted by a Rockland County Grand Jury for grand larceny in the second degree.
District Attorney Thomas Zugibe alleges she suctioned $81K from condominium coffers into her own purse between January 1, 2008 and May 1, 2013 while serving as treasurer. Zugibe said the defendant wrote various checks without permission or authority to herself and deposited same into her personal bank accounts.
Longtime Condo One Board President Clifford Albertson spoke to the Rockland County Times about what led to the scandal and indictment.
Albertson said, “It was a case where you place your trust in a person and it turns out the trust was very much misplaced.”
The board-representative of 48 units-had bylaws in place requiring two signatures on all checks, but in practice many of the checks were pre-signed by Albertson or the vice president, he told the Rockland County Times. Albertson said the board has now changed its policy so that one person writes checks and brings it to two others to sign, involving a total of three persons in the transaction and greatly lessening the likelihood of fraud.
Gardner had also taken out an ATM card from the condo’s account that board members did not know about and she would withdraw funds when she felt like it, the board president told the Rockland County Times. Albertson said he is puzzled why auditors the board hired to make sure their books were following proper order failed to find any of Gardner’s alleged abuses. Albertson said the condo’s new auditors are inspecting the practices of the previous regime of auditors.
About one year ago Albertson was contacted by the Village of Suffern treasurer and told his condo board was behind over $55K on their water bills. Albertson was befuddled and told the village treasurer, “I don’t understand how this could possibly be,” to which the village treasurer replied, “usually when this happens something funny is going on,” Albertson recalled.
The situation has been known to the district attorney since then and has been kept out of the public eye while authorities worked on their investigation. Albertson worked with the district attorney, pulling up all bank records from the past eight years and establishing that at least $81K in fraud had occurred in the five+ year window from January 2008 to May 2013.
The actual amount of fraud most likely is higher and goes back further, he said, but the district attorney focused in on that time span and came to that amount that he could prove in court. Chase Bank was very helpful in bringing up all bank records, Albertson noted.
The neighborhood was shocked to hear the news of Gardner’s alleged fraud according to Albertson. “She was well-liked by everybody. At annual meetings, everyone was thanking her for what a good job she did,” he said.
The condo board’s budget is around $180,000 and the treasurer is the main officer in charge of running the board’s financial operations. The other officers are volunteers who donate time at monthly board meetings mainly to make sure unit owners’ needs are addressed, but the treasurer takes a salary and directly manages the finances of the condo.
Asked if he had regrets that he did not pick up on the problem, the 12-year veteran president of the condo board said, “Hindsight is perfect, but we had no indications. We had monthly reports at monthly board meetings that showed everything was being paid. There was nothing that gave us any indication that anything funny was going on.”
The overdue water bills were going to a PO Box that Gardner solely controlled and Albertson believes she was destroying those bills. How could a treasurer allow unpaid bills to pile up over $50K and expect to get away with it?
“I don’t know what was driving her, I can’t get into her head, what it was. Probably the same thing every other person who was doing what she was doing; they just figured they would never get caught,” Albertson said, recalling that in the 1980s a treasurer from his church absconded well over six figure and high-tailed it to Arizona. He was eventually found and brought to justice.
What lessons have been learned?
Albertson said, “Well, it’s just we have to exercise more oversight over the affairs of what’s going on – we didn’t look at the bank statements. She was discarding them. We now have a Finance Committee to periodically review everything that’s going on.”
“Having an outside organization run the finances is an option,” he noted, “but that doesn’t mean they won’t do anything [like what Gardner did].”
Before this year’s controversy, the going-ons of the Bon Aire One Board have not been the subject of much controversy or interest. Albertson reported that the board has had a hard time even bringing out a quorum to their annual meeting in recent years.
That problem will have passed with this controversy, for a while.
Asked what has drawn him to a leadership post on a condo board for over a decade, Albertson said, “I’m just one of those people who donates time.”
He has been a trustee for many community organizations and his church for many years and continues to serve in that capacity, he said.
The arrest of treasurers of small quasi-public boards such as in the Little League and in condominium associations has been repeated several times around Rockland County in the past five years. Is now the time for all such associations to consider reforming their practices so that an unscrupulous person cannot defraud them?