By Rafael Alameda, Sun Sentinel – January 24, 2014
The former manager of a Hallandale Beach condo complex was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for participating in a kickback scheme that fleeced
unit owners out of more than $3 million.
Robert Hittner, 65, pleaded guilty on Jan. 2 two three counts of organized fraud in connection with his conduct while he was manager of the Parker Plaza Estates high-rise condominium at 2030 South Ocean Drive in Hallandale Beach.
He was the last of three defendants to be sentenced in the case, the only one of the three unable to pay restitution to the condo association, and the only one to receive any time behind bars. Hittner will also serve 15 years’ probation following his prison term.
Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson handed down the sentence after listening to supporters of Hittner and victims of the kickback scheme for more than two and a half hours Friday afternoon.
Hittner took the stand himself, acknowledging his guilt and apologizing to the two dozen unit owners who squeezed their way into Robinson’s courtroom to attend the sentencing hearing.
“I did do what I was accused of,” he said. “I was wrong. I should have never done it. I did it knowing it was wrong, and I am very, very sorry for what I did to you all.”
But under cross-examination by prosecutor Don Tenbrook, Hittner said he was neither the mastermind nor the ringleader of the scheme, laying the blame on his former co-defendants, including former condo board president Joseph Greenberg, as well as his predecessor as building manager, who was never charged in the case.
Greenberg was the first to plead out after charges were filed in 2007. He paid $250,000 in restitution and gave up ownership of his condo unit, valued at $290,000. He was sentenced to seven years’ probation.
Ira Silver, a plumbing contractor, pleaded no contest to one count of fraud last September, agreed to pay $400,000 in restitution, and was sentenced to two years’ probation.
A fourth alleged participant, maintenance supervisor Angel Ramos, was diagnosed last year with Alzheimer’s disease and will likely never face trial.
Prosecutors said the four men collaborated on a plot to inflate the cost of construction and other work that needed to be done on the 520-unit complex. Contractors would overcharge the condo association for the work, then take the extra money and send it back to the conspirators, according to prosecutors.
Unit owner Annette Deutsch and others urged Robinson to hand down a significant prison term. “This swindle would have gone on forever” had it not been uncovered by frustrated condo owners who rebelled at excessive construction costs, Deutsch said. “I’m sure you’re hoping, Mr. Hittner, that compassion be shown to you and that you get the minimum jail sentence? But where was your compassion for the people you were stealing from?”
Tenbrook said Hittner was dishonest when he denied being the mastermind behind the kickback scheme.
“He was the key person in this scame,” Tenbrook said. “He was the one who negotiated the contracts.”
Defense lawyer Frank Negron urged Robinson to keep Hittner out of jail to give him a chance to get a job so that he, like his co-defendants, could repay what he admits he stole. He said Hittner would not be facing prison time if he had the money to compensate the victims upfront.
“We’re getting ready to send a man to prison because he has no money,” Negron said.
“It’s not the money,” he said. “It’s the crime… Organized fraud. That’s why he’s being sentenced. Not because of money or the lack thereof. Not because he’s poor.”
Each count against Hittner carried a maximum prison term of 30 years. Robinson sentenced him to 10 years on each count and made the sentences run concurrently.