Still unknown is what happened to the lost money. Those who knew Buckingham, including one of his property managers, say they have no idea.
Princeton, with an office in Centerville, handled finances and directly collected monthly dues for homeowner communities in Centerville, Washington Twp. and Mason, including Community Association of the Ridge, Estates of Willow Creek, Fox Run, Pebble Creek of Mason, Shadow Creek, Stone Lake, Timberline Office Park, Twin Lakes at Spring Valley and Washington Colony, according to an indictment. The case was investigated by the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office Consumer Fraud Division after complaints mounted.
Bob Davis, 65, managed a half-dozen properties for Buckingham in the six years he was employed there. He quit when it became clear something unusual was going on, he said.
The condo associations trusted Buckingham, a man with at least a 20-year career in real estate who seemed to live a modest lifestyle, never went on vacation, and didn’t drive newer model cars, said Davis, who lives in one of the condo developments.
Problems with utility bills getting paid and contractors being compensated began cropping up with increasing frequency in 2009 after the death of Buckingham’s wife, but there had been occasional problems earlier, investigatory records indicate.
Shadow Creek in Centerville, for example, found out in late 2009 that three quarters of water/sewer bills hadn’t been paid. Weeks later, they were still unpaid even though Buckingham had been contacted about the problem. This went on until late January 2010, when the bills were finally paid.
But in February, some time after condo trustees had had enough and signed documents to remove Buckingham from the bank accounts, they told authorities that Buckingham had transferred money from those accounts into one he controlled.
Davis said that under the contracts Princeton had with the associations, it collected condo fees from residents and, after subtracting a management fee, paid for snow removal, basic maintenance and landscaping. When bills didn’t get paid and it became clear money was missing, presidents of the condo associations had to work out payment plans with contractors, Davis said. He added that he wasn’t able to track down all of the financial records, so much of the story remains unknown. The presidents of the associations contacted the prosecutor’s office, which launched a yearlong investigation. Buckingham was arrested July 14 and was quickly released on his own recognizance.
“We had to explain the situation (to contractors) ’cause it was a nightmare. Most properties, we could not replace damaged roofs, couldn’t paint units because there was no money to paint. We couldn’t seal-coat streets. If a tree died, we had to take it out entirely because we couldn’t replace it,” Davis said. “Properties got run down, and people were mad. It was just a nightmare.”
In some cases, condo fees rose to pay off old bills or new assessments had to be levied, Davis said.
One of the presidents was Bill Fredericy, 61, past president of the Twin Lakes at Spring Valley Association in Washington Twp. Condo fees are spread among 77 units. Fees went up $10 per month. That association’s bank account was short $37,000, he said.
“We were not receiving notices from the bank,” Fredericy said. Buckingham “was keeping them.”
Repairs went undone, Fredericy said. But fraud insurance did eventually help make the association whole, he noted. “We don’t know where all the money went. We took pride in the way we kept the place up. We were very angry. It was all turned over to the prosecutor. There is not much we could do,” Fredericy said.
Longtime Washington Twp. neighbor Charles Ho, 68, recalled Buckingham as a friendly man who, when piloting his riding mower, was kind enough to cut his grass next door, without being asked or paid.
Buckingham never spoke of problems. When his wife passed away, Ho said he took over dinners to return the favors. “He was a nice guy,” Ho said.