Widening the scope of a criminal probe at the posh EmeraldBay condominium, the State Attorney’s Office confirmed this week it is now involved in a “misappropriation of funds” case that is now in its seventh week.
The State Attorney’s investigation has also expanded to include an inquiry into concrete restoration and building recertification issues at the seaside complex.
Key Biscayne’s top building compliance officer, Jeremy Gauger, insisted the 12-story tower is safe. He said condo leaders have been cooperating with Village officials in what he called a “complicated” set of problems at the building.
The criminal probe, prompted by unit owner complaints to multiple agencies, is now a cooperative investigation between the State Attorney’s economic crimes unit and the Key Biscayne Police, said Ed Griffith, a spokesman for State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Village Manager Steve Williamson said KBPD remained the lead agency, but confirmed the department reached out for assistance because of the nature of the case.
“This is still in-house,” Williamson said. “But the chief has talked to both the County and the state because we are concerned that this is something that will go beyond our ability to investigate,” acknowledging the department’s small size and workload.
Rundle’s office has been increasing oversight of condominiums and homeowner associations in the wake of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside that happened two years ago today.
Key Biscayne police remained tight-lipped about the investigation, which officers described as a “grand theft” in a heavily-redacted report, rebuffing multiple and repeated requests for information by the Independent.
There have been no arrests or public indication of progress since the investigation started May 12.
The law enforcement probe comes after Village officials issued a civil violation notice to EmeraldBay last July because the Association was behind schedule on its required 40-year recertification, due in 2020.
It is the only Key Biscayne condo under supervision by the Village Board of Special Magistrates. Officials said the Village is keeping the code compliance case active to ensure the work is done.
Rene Velasco, the chief building official, said Friday the work on EmeraldBay’s pool deck may take several more years to complete. He said the Village is satisfied with the reports the condo has submitted to date, but a key report is due soon, as is a $10,000 fee because the scope of repair work expanded.
The entry of the State Attorney into the EmeraldBay matter comes alongside recent civil litigation over the building’s $7 million concrete restoration project. National Concrete filed suit alleging the building failed to finish paying for work.
On Friday, EmeraldBay denied the contractor’s allegations and said National Concrete “performed defective repair work,” according to court papers.
Condo leadership response
Following news of the police investigation into misappropriation of funds, residents on June 6 voted out Louisa Conway and Antonio Camejo, the president and treasurer respectively of EmeraldBay condo board.
The new board could not initially form a quorum, but several days later chose Bonnie Sekeres, a resident who only bought her unit 10 months ago, as the new president.
In an interview Saturday, Sekeres said she is leaving the investigation up to the authorities but “we will assist them any way they want. This is their responsibility.” She also would not discuss how many residents might have been defrauded, if any.
“I don’t think this is a question of transparency,” she said of her decision to not inform unit owners. “This is a question of protecting any person who might have been harmed.”
Conway, the former president, did not respond to a message requesting comment. Neither did the association’s management company, Castle Management, despite multiple requests.