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Fortunately Broward County guardianship investigators didn't need to find Huber to piece together where the money went, because he left a paper trail. Their investigation states that Huber forged court orders to fraudulently move large sums of money out of the guardianship account, then used these funds to finance real-estate purchases for his family and friends. And they were sweet deals. Huber arranged loans well above the purchase price of the property in question, a practice no bank would condone. He also used the money to buy cars for himself and his wife and to pay off his student loans, the investigators say. Guardianship investigator Robert Twomey labels the Hollywood lawyer "Santa Claus Huber."Hired as a court monitor in 1996, Twomey is the progenitor of Broward County's guardianship investigation unit. He put in time as a patrol cop in Colorado and Massachusetts before going to work in the late '80s as an exploitation specialist with the State of Florida's Adult Protective Services. In 1996 he changed jobs, replacing a Broward probate court monitor who was primarily involved in ensuring that wards were being taken care of properly. Quickly he realized the guardianship system was rife with potential for ripoffs. "When I was hired, there was nothing but empty file cabinets," he says. "They put me in a room and told me "You know what to do.'"
The more Twomey looked, the more he found. He gained an ally in probate judge Mel Grossman, who pushed to increase the budget to hire more investigators. Today Twomey works with two other full-time investigators, ten part-timers, and a victims' advocate.
These investigators have no law-enforcement power, but they can report suspected wrongdoing to police agencies. As Robert Taft puts it, "We are not a judge. We are not juries. We are not executioners. We are just fact-finders."
After more than a month of fact-finding in the Crompton guardianship, Taft connected the following chain of events.
Gunnar Huber became attorney of record for the Crompton guardianship in December 1997. One of his first accomplishments was getting Peter Crompton reimbursed $35,000 for out-of-pocket expenses and then paying off the $27,000 balance on the 1996 Chevy van Peter bought to transport Lee.
At the time Lee's money was still on deposit at First Union. Huber petitioned the court to allow transfer of the money to Lehman Brothers Inc. in New York City. Judge Speiser granted the order in January 1998.
Monica Ryan, a high-school classmate of Huber's, worked as an account assistant at Lehman Brothers. Taft, the court investigator, states Ryan came down from New York to "wine and dine" Peter Crompton in an effort to secure the account. When she later transferred to the Miami Lehman Brothers office, she brought the Crompton account with her. Huber divorced his first wife, Michelle, in February 1998, and married Ryan in April. (Ryan did not respond to inquires at her lawyer's office or to a letter sent by New Times to her New York address for this story.) As a means of boosting interest income from the settlement money, Huber convinced Peter to invest in home mortgages. In essence Crompton would take money from the guardianship to finance home buyers and in turn receive principal and interest payments -- just like a bank. It sounded like a good deal, declares Crompton, because it yielded 2 percent more than the money was earning at Lehman Brothers. "I was making 7 percent," he says. "I was all for it."
So was the court. On March 5, 1998, Judge Speiser authorized a $489,000 withdrawal from Crompton's account to finance two mortgages: $425,000 to purchase a $600,000 house in Fort Lauderdale and $64,000 for a $82,000 home in Pembroke Pines. The first mortgage paid 7.5 percent interest, the second 8 percent.
Both were fictitious, investigators contend. The properties and parties existed but the deals were fabricated. It seems Huber had used the names of past clients of Hunter & Hunter to fill in the blanks on the sales contracts, asserts Taft. In his final report, Taft wrote: "The funds actually went to fund a $425,000 mortgage for a home in Pembroke Pines that is owned by Gunnar and Monica Huber individually and for a $64,000 mortgage that facilitated the [sale] of a condominium in Plantation that was owned by Gunnar and Michelle Huber (Gunnar's ex-wife) to Michael Bach."
Bach, Taft notes, is a longtime friend of Huber's. Bach did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Indeed Taft believes the $489,000 withdrawn from the Lehman Brothers account on March 4 for the mortgages was authorized by a forged court order, which was sent on March 3 via fax from Huber to Monica Ryan at Lehman Brothers in New York. Taft's report states Judge Speiser's signature appears to have been photocopied and pasted on to that order.
Why would Huber submit a fake court order, then two days later get a real one? Taft can only guess. "He was testing the water. He had no idea if it would work or not." Getting a legitimate court order would help back things up if someone questioned the deal, he claims. "My theory is that he said, "Wow! I put this deal together and the judge signed off on it,' so he decided to go back and do it again."