A bottle of Tequila?

Association funds were spent on tequila,
other dubious items
By Donie Vanitzian
26 January 2014

I am a board director at my homeowners association. Receipts produced by our management company personnel requesting reimbursement for "office supplies" showed purchase of a $21 bottle of Tequila.

At the board meeting I showed that office supply receipt to the board and demanded homeowners be reimbursed.

Totally ignoring my demands that the association be reimbursed, the president joked, "Tequila goes better with lime."

That wasn't the first improper and unauthorized expenditure on the association's office supply account the president authorized on his own. I found purchases for over-the-counter drugs, candies, gum, cigarettes, party supplies, home decorating items and pet food, none of which our association ordered or received.

The management company refuses to answer my questions, and staff members put me off from meeting to meeting, stating they're looking for the items and are "having problems" locating receipts. The manager's typical answer for all such purchases is "the board authorized it."

Because the president protects the manager, the substantiation for such purchases never materializes and the majority on our board does nothing about it. There are no minutes that show board authorization through open discussion, and there are no motions or votes for such purchases. These expenditures are wholly unauthorized. I'm livid over the blatant misuse of homeowner money and the president's blanket approval, but what can one director do to stop this ongoing theft?

If ever there was a reason for homeowners to make regular demands to see association files, documents and receipts, this is it.

While it may come as a surprise to your board, tequila is not an association-related expense. Nor are purchases of over-the-counter drugs, candies, gum, cigarettes, party supplies, home decorating items and pet food. Such purchases are a waste of association assets.

Not only can misuse of association funds amount to fraud and theft, it exposes the entire board to liability for actions by the management company and the president.

Directors have a very clear and nondelegable duty to uphold the best interests of titleholders and protect the association's assets — even in amounts as seemingly inconsequential as $21. The board's knowledge of these shopping sprees, let alone its condonation of these actions, creates an express requirement to take corrective action. The board must seek reimbursement for improper expenses.

Directors and titleholders have a right to regularly inspect and copy the association's records. That right to inspect and copy association records is "absolute" for directors. As a board director, you are aware there are irregular expenses being made by management employees and covered up by the board's president; you therefore have a right to request a full inspection to determine the extent of any theft of association property.

You have the authority to — and should — insist the board have an independent audit conducted. Put pressure on any board director unwilling to investigate and resolve this matter. The owners who are funding the operations of the association should be informed of exactly what their hard-earned money is being spent on.

A management company is no different from any other third-party vendor or independent contractor hired by the association. The board's fiduciary duties to the titleholders extend to its supervisory obligations to oversee all employees and third-party vendors, inclusive of management. Any vendor that fails to follow direction from the board should be terminated.

The board and owners need to focus their attention on the president, who appears not to fully comprehend the duties of his directorship. The president's actions need to be investigated to the extent he apparently assisted in "approving" fraudulent expenses, aided and abetted, and failed to perform due diligence. It is a clear violation of the president's duties to the association and its owners to take part in improper spending.

If the board won't demand a refund, the owners need to demand that their money be refunded.

Zachary Levine, partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator.

Petty corruption matters
"When I saw corruption, I was forced to find truth on my own. I couldn't swallow the hypocrisy."
—Barry White

There is so much that's wrong in this report. It is obvious that the president is protecting the manager, the only question is why?

There is also something wrong with the rest of the board.

I assume that this is a newly elected director who stumbled across the standard business practices between the board and the management company.

What should be done is obvious. What will the minority director do may be something else altogether.

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