Real Estate

Posh Brickell Condo Claims Contractor Stole Thousands While Residents Suffered

What's your condo horror story? An air-conditioning unit that wasn't fixed for weeks? A neighbor whose loud music kept you up all night?

How about a general contractor who ultimately bilked the condo association out of hundreds of thousands of dollars while residents were left with flooded apartments and spotty electrical work?

That's what tenants at Skyline at Brickell, a posh 35-story tower, endured, at least according to a recent lawsuit filed by the condo association. "There were questions that couldn't be answered," says John Whittles, an attorney representing the association. "They eventually found out the amount that was going out the door, and it kind of blew up from there."

The suit centers on a contractor, Guillermo Rene Cuadra, whom the association alleges defrauded the condo association for more than $900,000 with the help of a former member of its board, Jaime Franco, and the building manager. Cuadra also failed to disclose he'd been charged with multiple felonies in 2009 related to another job, they say.

Rich Docobo, an attorney who has represented Cuadra in the past, declined to comment on the current suit but said past criminal accusations against Cuadra were frivolous. Those charges -- for first- and second-degree grand theft, contracting without a license, and burglary -- were all dropped by prosecutors, he pointed out. "To use unproven allegations to castigate a person's character is inherently unfair," he said.

The condo association says Cuadra billed Skyline for numerous construction jobs he didn't do and was paid for electrical work he wasn't qualified to do.

Most egregious, they say, was a huge window project: After the condo company decided to commission an exterior window repair in late 2012, the suit alleges, the building manager helped Cuadra beat out three other companies for the bid even though the contractor wasn't licensed for the work and a project engineer warned the manager of that fact.

After winning the bid, Cuadra allegedly billed the association for $6,500 a week, plus $1,000 a week for equipment rental, and ultimately was paid $445,000. But he never did anything, the suit says, and months after the project had ostensibly begun, residents were still complaining about flooded apartments because their windows leaked.

"I think the best thing to do [is] let me go thru the bills and total them up and submit whatever I think we can get away with," the manager wrote in one email to Cuadra, which was shared with Riptide.

Franco, a former board member for whom Cuadra had done construction work, is accused of then signing off on the payments to Cuadra that were approved by the manager. "Franco should not have approved any of those checks," Whittles says. "One way or the other, it's wrong -- whether it's intentional or negligent."

Franco told Riptide the suit has no merit. "All of the accusations are false," he said. "And when the complaint reaches a judge or a trial, the truth will come out."

Update: Although Cuadra was found not guilty of prior criminal accusations, in February of this year the Miami-Dade County Construction Trades Qualifying Board did find him guilty of 35 violations. Cuadra was ordered to pay fines totaling $10,000 and his license was ordered suspended for one year. Additionally, in 2007, Cuadra pleaded guilty to having illegally acquired a contractor license. He was ordered to pay $11,000 in fines and was banned from obtaining a license for two years.

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Trevor Bach

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