Court orders return of 551 boxes of property management records in SW Florida HOA lawsuit

Michael Braun Dan Glaun
Naples Daily News

Collier County Circuit Judge Lauren Brodie did not like what she was hearing.

Attorney Jason Mikes, who is representing 35 local community associations in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement lawsuit against their former management company, had just told her that he had given 71 boxes of contested documents to his clients.

It was, he said, what she had authorized at a contentious court date last week.

There was one problem: she hadn't.

“That really upsets me tremendously," Brodie said in Thursday's status conference held over Zoom. "I never authorized you to release anything, and that is a violation of this court's order."

"I guess I did misunderstand and I apologize," Mikes replied.

The dispute centers on 551 boxes of documents found at the vacated Naples offices of American Property Management Services, which the associations say made off with more than $8 million of their funds. 

This image of boxes of documents was included in a court filing by legal representatives of a Naples property management company being sued by 35 community associations as it seeks sanctions against the associations' attorney, whom they say unlawfully took the documents from their client's office.

Mikes has had the boxes, many of which are labeled with the associations' names, in storage since taking them from the office in February. He says they contain association records which are rightfully his clients' property that APMS withheld as it allegedly fabricated bank records to conceal its embezzlement.

Mikes and APMS attorney Erik Matheney from the Tampa firm of Shutts & Bowen have not agreed on what to do with the boxes, with Matheney claiming they were taken against proper legal procedure. At the hearing last week, Brodie ordered Mikes to count the boxes and consult with Matheney on how to share the records.

But Mikes allowed the associations to search and inventory 71 boxes labeled with their names and specific dates, saying he believed it was allowed by the court.

Matheney, who spent much of the latter half of the hearing with his head in his hands, said the boxes belonged to APMS and could contain proprietary and privileged information. Mikes objected, saying his clients urgently needed the documents to file insurance claims and pay their bills.

"These documents need to be returned to us immediately," Matheney said.

Brodie ordered the boxes returned to APMS pending another hearing next week.

The latest: Collier judge urges HOAs, American Property Management to work together in condo fraud suit

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Missing computer servers

There was also a matter of computer servers from the APMS offices that are in the possession of APMS co-owner Orlando Miserandino Ortiz's personal attorney, Ryan Doyle. 

"My concern is we don't know what's on the server, we don't know how it's categorized. I don't know who independently can do this because I don't know if I'm comfortable with Mr. Doyle doing it," Brodie said concerning what was on those servers. "I may want an independent person, a forensic or computer, you know, company, to inventory this."

Mikes said the main issue for him was the unavailability of information critical to his clients being able to pay bills and file insurance claims for the alleged embezzlement.

"The difficulty, your honor, is my clients can't even pay the bills that are owed by their electricity, they can't pay us, they can't pay $150,000 for copies, they can't pay for forensic computer guys to look through servers," Mikes said. "This is all very expensive. What they're trying to do is do it on their own as a community."

Legal representatives of a Naples property management company being sued by 35 community associations are seeking sanctions against the associations' attorney, whom they say unlawfully took documents from their client's office. The associations' lawyer says the records  belong to his clients.

Mikes said his assumption from the beginning was that the servers had been wiped.

"The fact that they still do exist, that's wonderful news," Mikes said. "But you know what? We need to move forward with it, and that's what's in those boxes. I don't have a solution."

Brodie denied Mikes' suggestion that his office hold on to all the boxes and the 1.6 million documents rather than having to send the boxes to Tampa and the APMS attorneys.

Evidence dispute

Brodie curtailed attempts by both Matheney and Mikes to delve into past issues of who had what evidence and when they had it, saying she did not want to rehash such information.

The judge went so far as to suggest an evidentiary hearing to determine the rightful owner of the documents.

However, Brodie cautioned Mikes about such a hearing: "There will be a delay."

Mikes responded: "I can't delay."

Brodie said since there has not been an evidentiary hearing, she would need an order on the information and documents.

"I'm doing this to get the information provided to both sides," she said. "That is the court's biggest concern, is to get these associations the documents they need to proceed with business."

After 45 minutes of back-and-forth, it became clear that Mikes and Matheney would not agree on who should go through the boxes and servers. Brodie ordered the boxes returned to APMS and told the lawyers to draft orders on how they would like the records to be searched.

The final decision, she said, would be hers.

"I don't mind getting respective, proposed orders from both of you," Brodie told Mikes and Matheney. "I'll just enter the one and I'll 'cut and paste' and do what I believe is appropriate."

The judge scheduled another status hearing for April 28.

Connect with breaking news reporter Michael Braun: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook)@MichaelBraunNP (Twitter) or mbraun@news-press.com. 

Criminal justice investigative reporter Dan Glaun can be reached at daniel.glaun@naplesnews.com or on Twitter @dglaun.