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A criminal investigation is in progress at the EmeraldBay condominium in Key Colony into a misappropriation of funds, police said. It is just the latest turmoil inside the vast luxury complex that is home to one-fourth of the island’s residents.

The new investigation is the second criminal probe at the island’s posh Key Colony apartment complex this year.

Both police and condo officials have refused to answer questions or provide information on the criminal investigation despite repeated requests.

Here’s what the Key Biscayne Independent has been able to establish through a review of documents and interviews:

The KBI received reports from Key Colony residents of a financial issue at EmeraldBay in early May. On May 22nd, Key Biscayne police in its regular “Police Blotter” announced officers had taken a theft report, describing it as a “misappropriation.”

In response to public records requests, the KBI obtained a police report May 24. The heavily redacted, seven-page document eliminated almost all factual references to the case. On the form, the few remaining references described the case as a “suspicious incident,” and a “grand theft,” which is a felony. 

The report listed at least two victims, and at least one witness. All of the names were withheld as was a description of what was allegedly stolen. Chief Frank Sousa cited a portion of Florida’s public records law that enables law enforcement agencies to withhold specific information from public disclosure, but he did not explain why or state the specific reason for withholding the information –although the department is legally required to do so.

Board, police silent on criminal probe

EmeraldBay President Louisa Conway initially denied knowledge of the investigation, speculating it could just be a resident making a routine theft report. Board Vice President Antonio Camejo and Jorge Cavalier denied comment. Board member Tony Gambirazio said he was told by the condo board not to comment.

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Residents said they were reluctant to be quoted, saying they feared reprisals in a condominium building that is rife with litigation. Those contacted expressed confusion as to what the investigation entailed, saying they have not been given an adequate explanation.

“It’s unfortunate that things have gotten to this point,” said one resident.

Eva Marie Kiene, a former EmeraldBay board member and current resident, said she couldn’t go into details but did say she heard that the money had been recovered.

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Chief Sousa first indicated an unredacted report could be provided as early as last Friday. When contacted on Friday, he said officers were conducting follow-ups and said “the report isn’t going to be available for some time. We have spoken to individuals with the case.” 

EmeraldBay is a 285-unit, 12-story tower inside the expansive Key Colony complex at 151 Çrandon, where upper floors have views of Biscayne Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.  A 3-bedroom unit recently sold for $2.8 million.

The redacted police report also mentions The Castle Group, which is the management company hired by the EmeraldBay board of directors.

But the document omits what role, if any, the company may be playing in the probe, and Castle officials declined to comment.

A Castle representative referred questions back to the condo board. On its web site, Castle says “two out of Castle’s three founders are CPAs. We can ensure that your financial records are not only impeccable but tailored to your exact requirements.” Management companies ultimately report to an association’s board of directors and officers, who are typically volunteers.

The criminal probe isn’t the only shakeup at EmeraldBay. Property manager and Castle Group employee Maria Rodriguez abruptly left her position. Conway said she left because of health reasons.

“Maria was extremely ill,” she said. “It is a personal issue. It is what it is. It is a bummer.”

When contacted on Friday to see if she had additional information about the investigation, Conway said no comment and tried to retract her previous statements.

Popular managers in two buildings

Rodriguez is the second condominium manager to leave Key Colony this year.

Her estranged spouse, Antonio Rodriguez, was dismissed in January as the building manager for a sister Key Colony building, Botanica, for performance issues, building officials said.

Both Rodriguezes have been fixtures at the Key Colony complex for decades, and forged ties with many unit owners at the buildings, where a personal touch is often appreciated.

Maria, a 20-year veteran, worked her way up from secretary to manager. Antonio Rodriguez was a security chief and assistant manager at Botanica before being promoted to manager.

As of Friday, Maria Rodriguez remained listed on the EmeraldBay website as manager. A KBI reporter visited home addresses for Ms. Rodriguez for comment, but without success.

Residents interviewed expressed gratitude towards Maria Rodriguez and said she had been well-known and well-liked by residents.

History of Legal Issues

The new police investigation is just the latest to rock the island’s largest seaside apartment complex. 

●  EmeraldBay is defending itself from an unrelated civil lawsuit brought by the Key Colony master association over allegations of unpaid assessments.

●  A clever phishing scam was blamed for Botanica employees’ authorization of a $105,000 electronic funds transfer to a new bank account that purported to have been established by Key Colony’s master association.

Conway and Camejo, who are current EmeraldBay officers, were sued in a defamation case filed by a former employee when they were also serving as directors of the Homeowners’ Association. The case was settled for $36,000.

On the Botanica phishing investigation, building officials said they’d been told that the funds were sent to a bank account associated with an automotive shop in Houston. Police and Botanica officials said most funds were recovered, but no arrests have been made in the case, which remains open.

Editor’s Note: Tony Winton lives at Key Colony in the Botanica condominium.

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

Editor-in-Chief

Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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