SALT LAKE CITY — A dispute that pits members of a homeowners association against the former president of its governing board and the property management company owned by Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups has devolved into a legal battle in 3rd District Court.
While the lawsuit against Waddoups' Cooperative Property Management was filed over a year ago in 2010, the attorney representing the Hidden Village Homeowners Association in Midvale is seeking to expand his complaint before Judge John Paul Kennedy.
A hearing on that motion could be heard as early as October in a case that alleges fraud and breach of fiduciary duty and names Waddoups, a Republican from Taylorsville, as a defendant.
The long and tangled dispute initially stemmed from a group of condo owners who felt that the then-president of the association's board of trustees, Mary Abbott, was arbitrarily assessing fines, late penalties, fees or assessments for improvements that weren't properly approved.
In one instance, according to assertions made by Les Perry on behalf of condo owners, the association levied $13,000 to remove a tennis court that was not removed and assessed $600 per unit for a paving project subsequently recalled.
The condo owners sought records of financial transactions they alleged would show Abbott unfairly penalizing some in the association — while she broke the rules, according to Perry.
Perry said his clients were repeatedly put off and stonewalled in their record requests by Cooperative Property Management, despite contractual duties to supply the documents.
Condo owners said Abbott's management of the condo complex — where she owned several units but did not live — created an atmosphere of fear and harassment that went unresolved by Waddoups' company.
"It was like living in a prison. It was horrible. Everyone was afraid to go outside," said Debbie Warren, who has lived at Hidden Village for a decade.
Warren said her own circumstances prevented her from moving, but Perry said a lot of condo owners were on the verge of selling their units when Abbott stopped showing up at trustee meetings and was replaced in October of last year.
"There was just a lot of fear here," said Dane Smith, who has become new president of the association's board of trustees. "Ultimately Sen. Waddoups is the fiduciary and he is responsible."
Waddoups' attorney, Lincoln Hobbs, disputes that and says the law is clear that Abbott was the fiduciary and Cooperative Property Management was just acting at her behest.
Where fault lies in a jumbled mess of financial records that Perry says are incomplete, clearly altered and demonstrates a pattern of financial impropriety is something the court will have to determine.
Perry and the condo owners believe thousands of dollars are unaccounted for under Abbott's control as head of the board of trustees and Waddoups stepped away from his duty as owner of the property management company.
"It is his (Perry's) duty to make that allegation on behalf of his client," Hobbs said. "It is his duty to come up with evidence to support that."
Hobbs added that "all available and appropriate records," have been handed over and the allegations contained in the lawsuit are just that.
Cooperative Property Management has since filed a suit against Abbott, asking essentially that should any liability be decided by the judge in the case that it be shared with former members of the board of trustees.
"She (Abbott) is on record in court denying the allegations raised in the complaint," said Richard Matheson, the attorney representing Abbott. "I do not think my client has done anything wrong."
Matheson said he does not believe there is a basis to the allegations in a case where "there are no victims because there are no perpetrators."
But condo owner Ferney Munoz Vergara said what should have been a simple records request easily fulfilled has had to degenerate into a lawsuit in which he and others assert the abandonment of good management — at the very least.
"I am just a homeowner. All we wanted is some documents," he said.