NAPLES, Fla. – The Naples property management company accused of embezzling millions of dollars from Collier and Lee counties’ community associations has a years-long history of legal trouble, a Naples Daily News/The News-Press investigation has found.
A review of court documents, business regulatory records, community association board meeting minutes and interviews reveal that:
- American Property Management Services (APMS) allowed one of their employees to keep managing a Naples community association, Eagle Creek, for months after her license was revoked for stealing $18,000 from another Naples homeowners association, which had fired her.
- The company allegedly took more than $200,000 without permission from Eagle Creek and then tried to repay it using other clients’ money. The money was drained in 2019 after the manager was moved to a different position and was no longer at Eagle Creek, but she remained with APMS.
- APMS agreed to pay a $1,000 fine to state regulators to resolve Eagle Creek’s complaint – a month and a half after its owner bought a private jet.
Since the start of this year, dozens of community associations have accused APMS of embezzlement, a court has ordered its eviction from its Naples office and the whereabouts of its owners Orlando Miserandino Ortiz and Lina Munoz Posada are unknown to the communities they once served.
Trouble predated the trail of lawsuits against APMS
APMS’s collapse came amid a series of lawsuits filed by clients alleging the company took their money and refused to turn over control of the associations’ bank accounts.
But the Eagle Creek charges and APMS’s employment of a manager who defrauded her previous workplace show the company’s legal troubles began at least four years ago.
The first lawsuit was filed in April 2021. Naples’ Compass Point community association alleged APMS had taken control of its bank accounts and refused to return them. Two months later, in July, the homeowners association for the Island at Southpointe – a group of waterfront estates on Naples Bay – filed a similar suit.
Compass Point and the Island at Southpointe voluntarily dismissed their suits in early January. Management for the associations did not return a request for comment prior to publication.
Yet another suit was filed at the start of this year, on Jan. 3, by The Commodore Club on Harbour Drive in Naples, claiming Ortiz and Posada facilitated fraud, breach of contract and embezzlement at that community. A letter to Commodore Club residents provided to this news organization claims APMS concealed its embezzlement by providing forged bank statements to the community’s board.
Two days later, dozens of other condo and homeowners’ associations filed suit, accusing the company of essentially seizing control of the accounts they use to maintain their properties and pay for utilities. That suit now has 35 plaintiffs, with the associations’ lawyer estimating millions of dollars in potential losses.
APMS has formally denied the allegations in those suits, claiming the associations knew and approved of its actions.
Manager charged with fraud
All of those lawsuits only cover allegations from 2020 onward against APMS, which was incorporated in Naples in 2008. But a review of the company’s history with Eagle Creek reveals financial and ethical problems dating back to 2018.
Enter Shannon Page: an AMPS employee who remained Eagle Creek’s property manager for months after her license was revoked for stealing from a former employer.
In summer 2017, Page lost her job as a community manager at the Bay Forest HOA in Naples for giving herself $18,000 in unauthorized bonuses. On Aug. 9, she wrote a letter to the Bay Forest board apologizing for “betraying [their] trust,” according to license complaint documents received through a public records request to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
She quickly found a new job as a community association manager for Eagle Creek, which contracted with APMS for management services. Board meeting minutes show she was working for APMS by the end of August.
APMS’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
On May 6, 2018, Page was booked on fraud charges for the Bay Forest theft. Four days later, her community association manager’s license was permanently revoked as part of a complaint settlement with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Bay Forest’s board was content with Page not serving jail time or facing probation as long as she would not be able to continue managing properties, according to prosecutor’s notes obtained in a public records request.
“The Board is most concerned with the Defendant being convicted, so that she will lose her CAM license and not be able to work for another Homeowner’s Association,” prosecutor Tino Cimato wrote on Aug. 15, 2018.
But despite the criminal charges, APMS kept her on. Page told the Naples Daily News/The News Press that she was moved to a position that did not require a community manager’s license.
“I was done being a (community association manager) in the spring of like 2018, and then I worked in the office for them,” she said.
Eagle Creek board meeting minutes contradict that statement, showing that she was still identified as the association’s property manager as late as Oct. 15, 2018. In a brief follow-up phone call, Page did not have an immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
On Oct. 19, 2018, she pleaded no contest to a count of fraud, paying $2,358 in court costs and not serving any jail time. She had already reimbursed Bay Forest for the theft, allowing her to avoid a harsher sentence.
“That was the only way she would avoid probation, per an agreement with the prosecutor,” Bay Forest HOA board president Robert Wood wrote in an email to the Naples Daily News/The News-Press.
By the time of the next board meeting on Nov. 19 of that year, a different APMS employee had replaced her as manager at Eagle Creek. Page continued working for APMS in a non-managerial position until the company shut down in January 2022, she said in an interview.
But Eagle Creek’s trouble with APMS was just beginning.
$200,000 allegedly drained from HOA accounts
From the end of August through mid-September 2019, APMS took more than $200,000 from Eagle Creek association accounts without permission, according to allegations in a complaint the association later filed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. By the end of November, APMS had reimbursed those accounts, largely through unauthorized transfers from other community associations it managed, according to Eagle Creek’s complaint.
Eagle Creek typically spends hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on maintenance, insurance, cable fees and administrative costs, according to its budget documents.
APMS ended its business relationship with Eagle Creek after being confronted about the transfers, said Tom Johanneson, an Eagle Creek resident whose wife was a board member at the time.
“There was a misappropriation of funds that the auditor caught, and they went to [APMS]. They got mad, returned the funds and fired us,” Johanneson said.
Eagle Creek filed complaints with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation against APMS and Ortiz. They settled those complaints in June 2021, with APMS and Ortiz agreeing to pay $1,000 but not admitting to any wrongdoing.
Douglas Molloy, a Fort Myers-based attorney and former federal and state prosecutor with expertise in white collar crime, said the nature of the allegations should have led state regulators to refer the case for criminal investigation. If the Department of Business and Professional Regulation failed to do so, that’s a problem, he said.
“Historically in Southwest Florida, because we have this big retired population, we have this incredible construction industry, those (regulatory) agencies usually know the path. The path is to bring, as soon as possible, a criminal investigative agency onboard,” Molloy said in an interview. “When it doesn’t, that’s an unfortunate mishap and mistake.”
Regulatory agencies can refer cases to state attorneys, the state Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution or federal agencies like the FBI or Secret Service, Molloy said, depending on the scope of the complaint.
Molloy added that the fact that APMS repaid the money it allegedly took from Eagle Creek would not insulate it from criminal prosecution.
“If you rob a bank, you can’t just put the money back,” he said. “You still robbed a bank.”
© 2022 Journal Media Group. Reporter Michael Braun contributed to this report.