Key Biscayne police on Tuesday arrested the former property manager at the posh EmeraldBay Condominium for a scheme to funnel more than $7,000 from a resident into her private account.
Maria Ferrer Rodriguez faces two third degree felonies: grand theft and organized scheme to defraud. A third-degree felony carries a maximum five year prison term.
A call to Rodriguez went to voicemail.
EmeraldBay is one of four condominiums at the Key Colony complex, the island’s largest. Rodriguez’s employment at EmeraldBay ended around May 12 when police received word of what they described as “misappropriation of funds.”
Louisa Conway, then-president at EmeraldBay, told the Independent at that time that Rodriguez had resigned from her job because of a cancer diagnosis – not the fraud investigation. The police report, though, shows Conway spoke to the police about the suspected fraud.
“We understand the public’s desire to know more information when this first began; however, today proves why we go through a criminal investigation that allows us to gather all pertinent facts and establish probable cause leading to the arrest,” said Key Biscayne Police Chief Frank Sousa.
“Defrauding anyone is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated in Key Biscayne.”
Rodriguez was employed by Castle Group, a property management company hired by EmeraldBay. It was Castle Group that notified residents Andres Ricketts Bustamante and Maria Canepa Castro, husband and wife, that they were delinquent in their dues, records show.
Ricketts told Key Biscayne police that he would deliver the checks for maintenance fees to Rodriguez. She would have him write the checks out to various entities – including one KCC Inc. That company, however, was a private corporation owned by Rodriguez.
“The defendant’s systematic ongoing course of conduct using KCC Inc.to replicate the official account of Key Colony Condominiums in the likeness to defraud the victims,” the arrest report states.
Rodriguez was taken to the Turner Guilford Knight jail. She was released on $10,000 bond.
Conway did not return a text message for comment. She was voted off the board in June after the news broke about the investigation into misappropriation of funds.
The new president, Bonnie Sekeres, said she hadn’t heard that Rodriguez had been arrested. “Very interesting,” she said. When asked if she knew of other residents who may have been defrauded, Sekeres said, “Not that I know of.”
The arrest report details how Rodriguez’s alleged scheme was discovered.
Ricketts and Canepa started getting suspicious when Castle notified them that they were late on their HOA payments. When Ricketts contacted Castle, the company referred them back to Rodriguez.
“It should be noted that Maria (Rodriguez) doesn’t have authorization to handle their funds,” the police report stated.
A call to Castle’s Plantation office on Tuesday was not answered.
Ricketts told police he suspected Rodriguez “manually” took him and his wife off the delinquency list “to further her scheme to defraud him.”
The couple then contacted Conway, who said she confronted the property manager. Rodriguez claimed she made a mistake and offered her immediate resignation as property manager.
Ricketts and Canepa could not be immediately reached for comment.
Rodriguez went to the Key Biscayne Police Department on May 24 to speak to detectives without an attorney present. She read a prewritten statement apologizing for the incident, acknowledging the money in question was still in her bank account.
The former property manager then offered the explanation for her KCC Inc. business, claiming its primary function was to assist unit owners to rent out their parking spaces. “The defendant stated the checks were deposited into an account they should not have been,” the arrest report stated.
Rodriguez said she didn’t regularly monitor that account and was unaware that the money had been mistakenly deposited at Truist Bank.
Police determined that two of the victims’ checks were deposited into the account – both in the amount of $3,647.63.
The arrest came just two days before Rodriguez was subpoenaed to testify in a deposition in a civil lawsuit involving EmeraldBay.
The suit, filed by the master Key Colony Homeowners’ Association, claims EmeraldBay has not fully paid its share of common charges. EmeraldBay has denied the allegations. David McDanal, the president of the Homeowners’ Association, declined to comment about the suit.
This story was updated from previous version.