Pavilion from the Ocean

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Miami-Dade lawmakers want criminal penalties for fraud and abuse by condo directors

Earlier this month, state senators and representatives from Miami-Dade filed a bill that includes 21 reforms to Chapter 718 of the Florida statutes. The reforms seek to correct gaps in the laws and establish criminal penalties for some irregularities in the administration of condos.

The plan classifies falsification of documents, an offense that now carries no legal consequences, as a third degree felony and sets prison terms. It also criminalizes electoral fraud, such as the falsification of signatures on ballots for condo boards of directors, and refusing access to administrative records with the intent to cover up crimes.

The proposal came one year after el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 published a series of investigative stories on condo abuses in South Florida, like electoral fraud, falsification of signatures, conflicts of interest, embezzlement and cases of fraudulent bidding.

“The importance of these reforms is that all these ideas came from the people and from all the residents that we interviewed,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade delegation to the Florida Legislature and prime sponsor of the proposal in the state House. “For the first time there will be criminal consequences for those who commit fraud.”

Diaz added that many of the ideas to criminalize abuses by condo administrators and boards of directors came from the county police and the state attorney’s office in Miami-Dade.

A grand jury report last month harshly criticized the state agency that regulates condos, the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, saying it had been negligent in the investigations of thousands of complaints submitted to it.

The report made several recommendations for changes, which were taken into consideration by the Miami-Dade lawmakers as they drafted their proposals.

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