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N4T Investigators: Hostile board? - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Hostile board?

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Tucson - Michelle Ruffo says her homeowners association board has hit her with $2500 in fines because she's a whistleblower. "They're just physically and mentally trying to destroy me," she told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, referring to a couple of board members. 

Ruffo lives in the Reflections in the Catalinas condos in the foothills. Back in 2012, she found out almost a thousand dollars in HOA funds were used for a board member to fly here for an HOA meeting, from his other home in another state. Instead of using Skype or a different video conferencing method, the HOA's management company, Lewis Management Resources, in 2012 reimbursed the board member $768 for his airfare, $114 for his hotel room; $96 for his rental car. That's to attend one board meeting, using money that's supposed to pay for homeowners' property maintenance and improvements, for which they pay $195 a month. The current management company for Reflections in the Catalinas, Associa (Lewis is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Associa), declined an interview and sent us an email on behalf of the board of directors, saying the travel expense was "...approved by the board..."   Really?  The board president at the time, Carolyn Fike, said in an email to us, "that's a flat-out lie." And in an audio recording of the 2012 meeting obtained by the News 4 Tucson Investigators, Fike blasted the travel reimbursement.  

"Even if there were justification for this reimbursement, " Fike says during that meeting, "it should have been brought to the board's attention, which it never was. It would have been voted on. But it was slipped in and that's absolutely unacceptable." 

The board member who was being criticized for the travel expenses responds by saying, "Sue me."   We are not identifying him because he has not been charged with a crime. We approached him last week at the condos and asked, "Do you have anything to say about the HOA paying for your travel expenses?" He said, "That is not a correct statement."

But Ruffo, who is a former member of the HOA board, says if the board wasn't called out on this, the money would not have been reimbursed. "Nobody knew about it" before it was brought up during that 2012 meeting, Ruffo said. "So he kind of came in through the back door, slipped this in and from that point on when I made mention, all of a sudden I'm getting all kinds of fines that are outrageous."

The $2500 in fines are mostly for parking in visitor's spots or those of other owners. Ruffo gave us photos she took of the property management's maintenance truck, while, she said, it was parked in her spot. She says she's been unjustly fined for having plants in the common area, that she's banned from using the pool and fitness room.

We asked her, "Were they fining you for anything before you brought up these travel expenses?" "No," she answered. 

Gene Keltto and Carol Lundberg are Michelle's neighbors. "I really do believe that they are singling her out," Carol said. "Absolutely, no doubt whatsoever," Gene said, "They're not picking on the other people on the parking."

Real estate attorney Eric Thomae is advising Michelle and will fight if the management company or HOA board tries to collect on those fines. He says the HOA board won't listen to her until she pays $200 for missing a hearing when she was out of town and her previous representative didn't show. "I do know that she's been fined what i think is an outrageous amount without proper procedures being followed, Thomae said. After Ruffo misses that meeting, Thomae said, "A week later they fined her 14 times, all in one notice. A notice that was deficient under the statutes. Didn't provide proper information, didn't provide her with that opportunity to be heard."

Ruffo said, "I used to think my house was my castle. Now I feel like it's more of a prison." She has been trying to sell her condo and move out. The lawyer, Thomae, says they're considering going before the Arizona Department of Real Estate to get the dispute settled.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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