By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
On April 30, 1998, Judge Simons approved Tendrich's request to begin collecting a $35 monthly maintenance fee from each of the Miramar Gardens and Vista Verde homeowners. Once Timberlake notified homeowners it was time to pay dues, "all hell broke loose," Benson says. "That's when we started seeing 200 to 300 people show up at the meetings. They couldn't see why they should pay. They didn't care if the roads were falling apart. People didn't see the good [that] Commissioner Ferguson, the church, and the CDC were doing for the community," she recalls. "They would protest outside the church on Sundays, carrying signs that Universal Truth was helping Timberlake put people out of their homes."
Perez sifts through the pages of court documents, incorporation records, bank statements, and other paperwork she has collected over the years in her quest to get rid of Timberlake and avoid foreclosure on her home because of the unpaid association dues. "The reason people don't want to pay," she professes, "is that we had no say-so in hiring Timberlake and in the reestablishment of the two associations. No one asked us to participate in the process. It was just done al estilo comunista."
She also maintains that the county, the Universal Truth Center, and Timberlake perpetrated a fraud upon the homeowners. "Everything they have done here is based on lies," she says emphatically. "But people give up when no one does anything to help. And the Duggers know that. They know there is no one protecting us, so they continue with their bullshit." She and other residents believe the county won its lawsuit because the defendants named in the complaint do not live in either Miramar Gardens or Vista Verde. As a result, they never showed up in court and Judge Simons issued a default judgment in the county's favor.
From one of her binders, she pulls out a copy of the May 15, 1997, court summons from the county lawsuit against the associations. The document clearly shows that the county served the summons on the Miramar Gardens HOA in southwest Miami, not the Miramar Gardens TownhouseHOA in Miami Gardens. And no one from Vista Verde was listed on the summons. Among those who are listed is Jorge Gomez, a former president of the Miramar Gardens HOA, who had died in 1994. "They didn't serve any of us, but they were able to resurrect a guy from the dead," Perez scoffs. As for Benson's account that the church, the county, and Timberlake were on a mission to help the neighborhood, she notes, "Everybody was looking to make money, especially the Duggers."
According to court documents, between 1998 and 2000, Simons authorized $129,834.88 in management fees and expenses for Timberlake. The company is currently paid $4620 a month to manage Miramar Gardens and Vista Verde. Timberlake is also reimbursed $13,000 a year for providing an on-site maintenance person.
Perez also argues that Tendrich created conflicts of interest when he reinstated both associations by naming himself, Olivia Benson, and Bob Dugger as the only board members for the Miramar Gardens and Vista Verde HOAs from May 1998 to January 2001. "How can you have the property manager and the church making the decisions for our community?" she asks. "Why didn't they look for residents to serve on the board?"
State law, however, allows court trustees to appoint whomever they want to a new board of directors when in the process of reorganizing or reestablishing an HOA. Furthermore, Benson counters, residents who did support the idea of collecting association dues were reluctant to run for board positions because of mounting public hostility, and Tendrich wanted to ensure that the two associations were stable enough to function on their own before turning them over to the homeowners. When the reinstatement was completed, Rachel Dugger says, Tendrich immediately held the first election, in February 2001. Property owners were elected to both boards, as were two employees of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, who represent the agency as property owners. Since then, she notes, both associations have had two more elections, the last one on March 6, 2003.
Perez alleges that Rachel Dugger colluded with several homeowners, including members of the current boards, to "fix" that first election to place favored residents on the boards. She accuses Dugger and Miramar Gardens' current HOA president, Claudette Brinson, of collecting blank proxies signed by homeowners and then filling in the names of those Brinson and Dugger wanted on the board. She also charges that last year the two boards amended the associations' bylaws and homeowner documents, such as prohibiting homeowners from having more than two occupants per bedroom, without a majority vote of the homeownership.
According to court documents, Perez and Leiva owe $2555 in unpaid association dues and another $3625 in attorney fees and court costs. "No one is going to come in here by force," she says with bravado, "take my money and take my home." She's been able to avoid foreclosure by keeping one step ahead of Timberlake. When the property management firm, on behalf of the HOA, sued her and her ex-husband on September 28, 2001, in order to initiate foreclosure on the townhouse, she was able to buy time when she proved to the court that the state had administratively dissolved the Miramar Gardens and Vista Verde homeowners associations on September 21, 2001. Timberlake had failed to file both associations' annual reports, and inactive corporations cannot file lawsuits. Timberlake and the associations' attorney, Eric Glazer, a Hallandale Beach-based lawyer, reinstated the associations and proceeded again with the lawsuit. Perez then called upon Gov. Jeb Bush for help via a rambling and passionate plea on May 25, 2002. "Please don't close your eyes to this e-mail," she wrote, apologizing for her grammatical mistakes. "If we go all the way to you it because here we can't go to know body that we could believe in." The governor responded via the Internet as well. "Taimira, thank you for writing. I have asked my cabinet legal counsel and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into this and see if we can help." (An FDLE spokesman could not confirm the existence of a criminal investigation into either HOA or Timberlake.) Bush's office also put Perez in contact with attorney Juan Rodriguez, who is working pro bono on her behalf. He helped her avoid foreclosure by persuading her to declare bankruptcy. Once she clears bankruptcy this month, Perez believes, Timberlake will again seek to foreclose her property.