A Florida Habitat for Humanity affiliate has ceased to exist in the wake of a scandal involving its past president and a real estate agent who reportedly made thousands of dollars from buying and selling two Habitat homes.
The affiliate, formerly Lighthouse Habitat for Humanity, has been absorbed by Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County, according to Carolyn Vickey, executive director of the Palm Beach Habitat affiliate.
“The blending of the two groups is complete,” Vickey said Monday. “We will be continuing to build houses in the Jupiter area, servicing the same amount of people.” Vickey said her group plans to strengthen and continue its relationships with existing Jupiter-area volunteers and donors.
Vickey’s organization took over Lighthouse’s assets, which included 16 mortgages and a thrift store that will continue operating, in December, Vickey confirmed. The Lighthouse Habitat built five homes last year, reports said.
An April investigation of the Lighthouse by a Florida newspaper revealed that Stephane Bouchard, the real estate agent who bought and sold the two homes, had business ties to Bea Sallabi, former president of the Lighthouse board. Also, Sallabi helped facilitate the sale of the homes.
The two had formed three corporations in January 2005 for the purpose of making real estate transactions, Vickey confirmed.
No charges were filed in the scandal that shuttered the Lighthouse doors. Habitat for Humanity International did two investigations of the matter and discovered no evidence that Sallabi profited from the deals. Investigations by a New York law firm and the Florida Attorney General’s Office concurred.
The Habitat for Humanity International investigation did reveal that Sallabi did not inform other board members of her relationship to Bouchard, Vickey confirmed.
After the investigations, one board member was suspended and the board asked Sallabi to sever all ties to the organization.
Property records revealed that Bouchard bought one Habitat home in October 2003 for $92,500 and sold it two months later for $126,000. In November 2004, Bouchard purchased another home for $185,000 and sold it for $219,000 in January 2005, Vickey confirmed.
The houses were among seven Habitat residences built with volunteer labor and donated supplies sold since January 2003 for profits as high as 90 percent, Vickey confirmed.
The executive director said she intends to forge ahead, building between 10 and 12 houses between her group’s new territory in Jupiter, Fla., as well as the existing territory, which comprised roughly three-quarters of Palm Beach County.
“Land is scarce in the Jupiter area and we didn’t want to lose the support of that area with both sponsors and volunteers,” Vickey said, referring to the absorption of the Lighthouse Habitat into her group. “This way we can continue to build, utilizing the support that’s in the Jupiter area.”
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