West Chester condo owners claim scheme led to $380K-plus loss

Credit: krisanapong detraphiphat/Moment/Getty

Credit: krisanapong detraphiphat/Moment/Getty

A group of West Chester Twp. condominium owners claim some condo association board members and a contractor have bilked them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Several homeowners in the Stoney Creek Condos allege association board treasurer Ralph Bawtenheimer, his wife Melissa Mallin and independent contractor James A. Thomas entered into a scheme that resulted in the loss.

Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Pater summed up the situation saying Thomas allegedly was paid primarily for deck repairs and other miscellaneous jobs at the property that were “never performed or performed at a sub-par level.”

Pater outlined the allegations that occurred between 2018 and this year in an order denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. The lawsuit claimed that Thomas, Bawtenheimer and Mallin generated false invoices “grossly overstating the actual repairs if any” performed by Thomas, that Bawtenheimer falsely represented what Thomas spent on the work on financial reports and statements, that Mallin recorded a voice mail message on Thomas’ phone number giving the false impression she was Thomas’ employee “in furtherance of the conspiracy” and Stoney Creek relied on falsely represented materials costs bought by Thomas.

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Pater said plaintiffs claim board members Dorothy Hull, Thomas Gilchrist and Damen Hicks knew about the inappropriate transactions and failed to “protect the association’s monies or other interests.” A cover-up of the illegal transactions is also alleged. He denied the dismissal request.

The civil lawsuit was filed in May alleging the association paid about $380,000 for work that cost a fraction of that amount, and the plaintiffs filed a police report on Oct. 31 with the West Chester Twp. police, alleging they are victims of a $500,000 embezzlement. The complaint is under investigation, according to township spokeswoman Barb Wilson.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said he is aware of the case.

“This is a matter that requires the type of investigation that the West Chester Police Department is more than capable of handling, for the purposes of developing the merits of any case that might be involved in my office,” Gmoser told the Journal-News.

Mallin’s attorney, Konrad Kircher, said the police won’t find anything to prosecute.

“Their desperation in failing to come up with any evidence in the civil case apparently has led them to try to get the police involved,” Kircher said. “The homeowners couldn’t find any evidence themselves so now they are asking others to look for them and those investigations will be equally fruitless.”

Complicating the lawsuit is the fact the plaintiffs have been trying to get bank records for Thomas to bolster their case and Thomas fought the subpoena. That part of the case went to the 12th District Court of Appeals and the Chase Bank records were released to the lawyers.

“What we know so far is that the association paid about $450,000 for work that actually cost about half that,” said Jeff Nye, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “We’re working hard to get to the bottom of what happened and why it happened.”

One of the plaintiffs, Rita Brown, who is a former HOA board member, said she is familiar with the defendants and her “gut” told her invoices for the work were “padded” so they began investigating. As a result she said she and others have been “targeted.”

“Because I’m on the lawsuit I’m being attacked, I’m being harassed,” she said. “It’s affecting me physically and emotionally.”

Chris Dutton, one of the defendants’ attorneys, said his clients didn’t know about the criminal investigation, a fact he said “seems odd.” The civil suit, he said, is tied to elections for the association board.

“The defendants vigorously opposed the plaintiffs’ position and intend to defend themselves fully,” Dutton said. “Basically what we argue is the complaint is based on speculation and conjecture and motivated by hard feelings rather than facts. You shouldn’t be able to bring up a lawsuit against individual human beings for nothing more than hard feelings.”

Mallin has filed a counter claim alleging malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and frivolous conduct. Kircher said his client is being sued because she is married to the key defendant.

“So far the plaintiffs, who have been at this for a year, have not produced any evidence of a conspiracy,” he said. “They’ve got these wild-eyed beliefs that are just wrong. They are a handful of disgruntled homeowners and they just won’t admit that they’re wrong.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article should have stated that complaints against the board members were alleged in a police incident/investigation report, not a criminal complaint. The article should have also stated that Judge Charles Pater did not rule on the legitimacy of the allegations but instead simply denied a motion to dismiss. The case is continuing.

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