Hammocks receiver sues former HOA leaders over allowing alleged $3M fraud

While four ex-board members weren’t criminally charged, a new civil case alleges they did nothing to stop the scheme

A photo illustration of the Hammocks residential community in Miami-Dade County (The Hammocks Community Association, The Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County)

A photo illustration of the Hammocks residential community in Miami-Dade County (The Hammocks Community Association, The Circuit Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County)

Less than a year after four ex-board members of the Hammocks homeowners association were charged with massive fraud, a new lawsuit takes aim at other former HOA leaders who allegedly did nothing to stop the scheme that siphoned millions of dollars from residents. 

The Hammocks Community Association and David Gersten, the court-appointed receiver overseeing the HOA, sued Ligia Capielo, Merlene Kopec, Madeline Maceda and Luz Ordonez in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. 

The four were not criminally charged in the fraud, but played a role by “allowing or failing to stop the ongoing misappropriation of funds by former board members,” according to the civil complaint filed late last month. 

The lawsuit comes as the Hammocks is working to rebuild its financials and daily operations after years of alleged mismanagement, theft and harassment of residents by former board members. 

The community ranks as South Florida’s biggest HOA with more than 18,000 residents. It spans 3,800 acres between Southwest 120th and 88th streets and between Southwest 147th and 162nd avenues in south Miami-Dade County. 

In November, police arrested Marglli Gallego, Myriam Rodgers, Yoleidis Lopez Garcia and Monica Isabel Ghilardi, all of whom served on the board, as well as Gallego’s husband, Jose Antonio Gonzalez. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office’s investigation alleges that with Gallego as the ringleader, the five played a role in looting $2 million from association coffers. They hired bogus contractors and paid them for no work, with much of the money kicked back to the pockets of Gallego and Gonzalez, according to charging documents. Gonzalez led many of the purported vendors. All five have pleaded not guilty. 

Gersten was appointed as HOA receiver shortly after the arrests. He has been working with a team of attorneys and forensic accountants, who have determined that the alleged fraud actually topped $3 million

In his lawsuit against Capielo, Kopec, Maceda and Ordonez, Gersten claims that they allowed the association to pay nearly $9 million from 2019 to 2022 and another $4.6 million last year to 17 vendors without even checking if any work was done. 

They also did nothing about the employment of “insiders,” or family members of the arrested board members, at “inflated” salaries, often for no work and sometimes without invoices for payments, according to the complaint. The “insiders” received a combined salary of $1.7 million from 2019 to 2022. 

In particular, the suit takes aim at Maceda, who as former treasurer of the board was responsible for the financial books, including signing for association accounts and approving hiring and paying vendors.

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Issues at the Hammocks spanned beyond an alleged kickback scheme. For years, the association paid legal fees in court to fight off investigators’ subpoenas of financial and other records. It also paid Gallego’s criminal defense fees for her initial arrest in 2021 over allegedly misappropriating $60,000 of funds. 

In total, the association improperly paid more than $2 million in legal fees “against its own interests,” all while Maceda, Capielo, Kopec and Ordonez still served on the board, according to the complaint. 

The four “had all of the information necessary to determine that those legal services were in a direct conflict of interest with the association,” the complaint says. 

Capielo and Kopec served on the board last year as vice president and secretary, respectively, and Ordonez served in 2021 and 2022 as director. 

Maceda, who served from 2017 to last year, also is accused of not directing the board secretary to keep meeting minutes as associations are required to do, including a 2020 budget meeting, the complaint says. 

The lawsuit is for breach of fiduciary duties. The complaint does not allege that Maceda, Capielo, Kopec and Ordonez participated in the scheme. But it does claim that, in the very least, it was their responsibility to keep oversight of daily operations to ensure the board was acting in the best interest of residents. 

An attorney for Maceda, Capielo, Kopec and Ordonez declined comment. 

Since becoming the receiver, Gersten has worked to claw back money for the association, including from law firms that the association paid for the criminal defense of Gallego, and a vendor who allegedly participated in the scheme but later cooperated with investigators. 

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Five law firms have refused to return $871,200 improperly paid to them, Gersten said in his May report to the court. Gersten plans to sue them to recoup the money. 

In March, the Hammocks held a board election, though the newly elected leaders will serve as an advisory board for the remainder of Gersten’s receivership.