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How a Self Mis-Managed Co-op Ran Amok

Howard Beach

Self Mis-Managed

The Lindenwood Village co-op in Howard Beach, Queens, where self mis-management nearly led to ruin.

Feb. 10, 2016

“Because no one did anything, Ellen stepped up and did everything” was how Howard Weber, then the board’s attorney, justified Buonpastore’s running of the 146-unit co-op, also known as the Dorchester I and II, and located in two six-story buildings not far from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Buonpastore’s right-hand woman was the co-op’s office manager, Joan Ujazdowski. They were a formidable duo. When Howard Thompson, muckraking host of WPIX-TV’s Help Me, Howard show, paid a visit to Lindenwood Village to investigate delays in an elevator repair job, he was shouted out of the lobby by the two women. Ujazdowski advised him, in unambiguous Anglo-Saxon language, to “Go f**k yourself! Get outta my face! Get outta my face! Get outta my face! You’re a piece of garbage!”

But her mouth, it turns out, wasn’t the only unclean thing about Joan Ujazdowski. In April of 2014, the co-op’s accountant, Bill Artuso, called an emergency board meeting because he had discovered a dirty little discrepancy in the books: for the past two years and four months, someone in the co-op had been buying gift cards from Staples, Barneys, Home Depot, and other stores – to the tune of $88,000. Why? A little digging by Artuso revealed that Ujazdowski had been using co-op funds to buy the cards. No one is quite sure if she bought them for herself or gave them away as gifts.

The discovery of the theft led to the firing of Ujazdowski, the election of a new board, and the hiring of a new team of professionals – including a property manager, Joe Doren of Metro Management. Together they brought the co-op back from the brink of ruin. Along the way, everyone involved learned a valuable lesson.

The co-op’s new accountant, Carl Cesarano of Cesarano & Khan CPA, put it this way: “When you don’t have professionals running the show, things can get hairy. If you’re doing self-management, you’d better have structure. If you don’t, you can have financial disaster, and that’s what happened here. This is a story about when self-management runs amok. Things got crazy here. The inmates took over the asylum.”

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