Hotel cashes Sandy victims' insurance check

Couple escaped to South Florida after storm destroyed their home in New Jersey

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A New Jersey couple staying in South Florida after Superstorm Sandy destroyed their home found out their hotel cashed their important insurance check.

Patrick Shymanski and his wife, Lori Slack, told Local 10 they came to South Florida to escape Sandy's aftermath.

"I'm a professional firefighter in Atlantic City, so not only did I deal with the havoc of working and seeing what people went through, then I came home to our home being destroyed. It was probably the worst time of our lives after that," Shymanski said.

The pair decided to have an extended stay in Fort Lauderdale while contractors surveyed the damage to their house. They rented a condo at the Atlantic Hotel and Spa, a luxury condo/hotel on the beach.

When their homeowner's insurance agent said a check worth almost $37,000 would be in the mail, it was the best news they'd heard in a long time.

"I called the insurance company. They verified it was sent out," Slack said.

Slack and Shymanski said they waited days and then weeks, but never received the check that was mailed to the Atlantic.

When they called their insurance agent, they received bizarre news:  "He tells us, ‘That check was cashed December 26th,' and that absolutely blew our minds," Shymanski said.

It turns out, the check was cashed by the very hotel where they were staying.

A copy of the cancelled check shows that it was made out to Lori Slack, but on December 26th, it was deposited into the Atlantic's BB&T bank account.

Slack said she believed the envelope was addressed to her, but also included the name of an Atlantic staff member who handles issues with owners in the building. She said someone at the Atlantic opened the envelope.

General Manager Chris Gould told Local 10 on the phone that what happened was an honest mistake and a clerical error.

Gould said there might have been confusion because the Atlantic works with Chubb, the same insurance company that Slack and Shymanski use. He also said, because the couple is renting a unit from an owner at the Atlantic, they are not considered registered guests.

In a statement emailed to Local 10, Gould said:

"I investigated and found that the check had been addressed to one of The Atlantic's employees and that the hotel's name and address were printed on the check. Our employee mistakenly assumed that the check was payment for an insurance matter in which the hotel was co-insured. The check was deposited into the hotel's bank account and cleared by the bank."

Local 10 contacted BB&T, located on SE 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale, but was told no one was immediately available to discuss the matter.

"If we didn't bring this to their attention, God knows that $36,824 would still be sitting in their account," Slack said.

The Atlantic cut Slack a check on Wednesday to refund her money, but she said that was too late for the contractors she had kept waiting.

"In the meantime, our contractors in New Jersey had to leave our job because we couldn't pay them. That was the money we were paying them with," Slack said.

On Wednesday, the couple filed a fraud report with Fort Lauderdale Police, who are investigating. In the future, they said they would consider having any money wired to them instead.

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