Posted on Friday, February 4, 2011
FORT LAUDERDALE Controversial developer Glenn Wright was arrested Monday, accused of stealing $20,000 from a homeowners association and giving it to a rabbi to buy a new property for the Downtown Jewish Center, court records show.
Wright, 57, of Fort Lauderdale, was charged with grand theft and was released Monday evening on $5,000 bond. Investigators say he took the money from the La Preserve Home Owners Association and lent it to Rabbi Schneur Kaplan, without disclosing the source.
The religious center has been in the news because convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein was a member and big donor whose name was on one of the center's buildings. His now defunct law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, handled the closing, investigators said.
Kaplan, the leader of the synagogue, is not accused of any wrongdoing and provided proof to prosecutors that he paid the money back to Wright. He told state prosecutors and Broward Sheriff's detectives that he had befriended Wright in 2003 when the developer sought spiritual advice and became involved in the center, now at 900 E. Broward Blvd.
Wright started making $1,000 donations to Kaplan every month through a subcontractor, Kaplan told investigators. The rabbi could not be reached for comment Monday, despite two messages left with staff.
In November 2006, Kaplan was buying a new building for the center, but did not have enough money for the closing so he asked Wright for a loan. Wright wrote him a $20,000 check, though Kaplan said he did not remember if it was delivered to him or directly to Rothstein's law firm.
In December, Wright told prosecutors that he gave Kaplan donations from his personal money but had no recollection of giving him $20,000 to close on the property. Wright identified his signature on the check and said he and his wife were the only people authorized to transfer money out of the account at the time. His attorney, Norman Malinski, declined to comment.
Patricia Wright told prosecutors that "she found out through one of her bookkeepers that money was 'mistakenly' given to the rabbi" and she called him and demanded it back.
Broward prosecutor Spencer Multack said the ongoing investigation began with complaints from some of Wright's customers who paid deposits but whose homes had not been completed. Prosecutors examined Wright's activities and discovered financial irregularities in the homeowners association accounts.
Multack said La Preserve subcontractors who were interviewed in the Wright investigation told investigators they had been frequently sent to do work at former Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Cindi Hutchinson's residence, while she was on the commission.
That information led to the arrests of Hutchinson and Steve Goldstrom, Wright's former business partner, on Friday. Hutchinson plans to plead not guilty to accepting $14,000 worth of work on her residence, arranged by Goldstrom, in what prosecutors said was an illegal "thank you" gift for Hutchinson's favorable votes for the La Preserve and Georgian Oaks developments. Goldstrom was charged with one count of perjury.
Homeowners who started moving in to La Preserve in February 2006 paid maintenance fees of $450 every three months as well as a $500 contribution to the association at time of purchase. Wright transferred the money to his company La Preserve LLC's account and the loan was made from that account, Sheriff's Detective Michael Johnston wrote.
Kaplan proved to prosecutors that he repaid the loan to Wright on March 24, 2008. The repayment was applied to Wright's company account and was never returned to the homeowners association, investigators said.
Wright was a big name in local luxury construction, but he was also one of the more controversial developers in the city. His showy, two-story homes were opposed by some residents who said he ruined the character of their older neighborhoods by building "McMansions" on small lots.
He lost some of his properties to foreclosure since the housing market dipped. He enraged some of the people who put down deposits on homes they said were not completed. Dozens of civil lawsuits were filed against him by homeowners and subcontractors.
The Wrights later sold all of the assets of their company, Glenn Wright Construction & Development, including the homeowners association, and the $20,000 has not been recovered, Johnston wrote.
Wright is not expected to be charged in connection with the public corruption case.
By Paula McMahon, Sun Sentinel