A former member of a Vancouver strata council has been sentenced to two years less a day imprisonment — to be served in the community — after bilking his fellow homeowners out of more than $160,000.

In court Monday, Patrick Au was also given two years probation and ordered to pay back the entire $160,000. He pleaded guilty to theft and fraud over $5,000.

Au was a volunteer member of the strata for Gardenia Villa, a 250-unit condo building near Broadway and Nanaimo Street in East Vancouver.

Over a four-year period, starting in 2001, Au slowly took control of the strata's finances and started siphoning off funds for his personal gain.

'Don't deal with photocopies or photocopies of photocopies of original receipts.'- Tony Gioventu, executive director, Condominium Homeowners Association

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Homeowners Association, says the case is a clear warning for those living in a strata building.

"We need strata corporations to really closely monitor invoices that are being submitted by council members for compensation, or by other parties for compensation,” says Gioventu.

“You need to verify that the companies exist, that it was a valid claim, that the expense is reimbursed in the appropriate way and deal with original receipts. Don't deal with photocopies or photocopies of photocopies of original receipts."

East van condo

Patrick Au managed the finances of strata building Gardenia Villa in East Vancouver. (BCCondos.net)

Gioventu says there are 27,000 stratas around the province, and while this type of fraud isn’t common, it is not without precedent.

He recommends that two strata members should handle the finances: one to authorize expenses, and the other to issue the cheques. Beyond that, he says, there needs to be constant vigilance.

"The most important thing is getting monthly reports,” says Gioventu. “Get a reconciled financial report where you can verify [expenses].”

With files from Robert Zimmerman