At the time of his death, Michael Cruz still owed Pride Fort Lauderdale $13,000.
In June of 2011, Cruz, whose cause and date of death SFGN was unable to obtain, was convicted of stealing $46,591 from Pride. Cruz, the former director of the then named Pride South Florida, was sentenced to one year in the Broward County Jail and ordered to make monthly payments of $400 to Pride to pay the organization back. Court documents also show that Cruz was ordered to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
“For whatever happened, at the end of the day, he at least tried to make good [on his past misdeeds]. He admitted his mistake. I knew him from working with him in the past and he was a really nice guy, but sometimes things happen. I don’t forgive him but you can’t forget the good work he was involved in. He wasn’t a bad guy. I don’t know how he got caught up in gambling,” said Pride President Miik Martorell. “He never missed [a payment].”
Joel Slotnick, who was the secretary/treasurer of Pride South Florida, said Cruz’s embezzlement was a shock at the time. “I knew Michael for at least a decade before that. The whole thing was really a surprise for me. It was shameful because he fooled a lot of people. I know he had a gambling problem but that still is somebody who basically betrayed you.”
Slotnick said he pushed for the lien in 2011 because Cruz had attempted suicide and he wanted to ensure Pride got repaid what was stolen. Both Slotnick and Martorell said they consider it their responsibility to get all of Pride’s money back.
“I’m not trying to be a gravedigger. There’s a responsibility to the organization for the money owed. It’s the community’s money. At this point, we’re probably going to have to hire a lawyer to get the rest of it,” Martorell said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure Pride gets their money,” said Slotnick.
According to county property records, Cruz and a man named Emmanuel Stringos purchased a home in Fort Lauderdale in 2000 for $87,490. The home was sold in July of this year for $215,000, but Stringos was the only name on the title at the time of sale.
In his interview with SFGN, Martorell said Pride would look into why the lien was not being enforced and why Pride had not been notified that the payments would stop.
A spokesperson for the Broward County Records, Taxes and Treasury Division said that it’s not up to the county to track and enforce liens. The spokesperson added that Pride might have to go to court to get the remainder of its money, possibly from what Stringos made from the sale of the home that used to be partially-owned by Cruz. Multiple attempts to reach Stringos were unsuccessful.