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A second unit owner at a ritzy Key Biscayne apartment building told condominium officials that he too was defrauded by a longtime property manager who was arrested this week on fraud and grand theft charges involving another owner, according to a member of the EmeraldBay board of directors. 

EmeraldBay board member Tony Gambirazio said Thursday the second owner came forward June 8 with a similar story to the first: he was facing legal demands for nonpayment of $27,000 in maintenance fees, even though he had paid them. 

The new claim comes on the heels of former Manager Maria Rodriguez’s  voluntary surrender to police Tuesday for allegedly siphoning $7,000 in owner fees into a bank account she set up through a private corporation.

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Gambirazio said he met with the second unit owner along with EmeraldBay President Bonnie Sekeres on June 8. The resident showed them photocopies of checks from 2018 and 2019 that he wrote to Emerald Bay but appeared to be physically altered to pay Rodriguez’s corporation, he said.

The resident, Gambirazio said, wants to stay anonymous. 

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“My goal is to right the ship here at EmeraldBay,” Gambirazio said. “My concern is that we at EmeraldBay are not doing anything to find out if there were any more victims.”

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Sekeres has given contradictory statements about the investigation and has not responded to requests by board members for a forensic audit.

After Rodriguez’s arrest, Sekeres told the Independent she didn’t know of any other resident who had been defrauded. 

But Sekeres and then-President Louisa Conway gave a statement to police May 12. In that statement, Sekeres indicated there might be additional victims. 

“We suspect other units might be involved in this process. We don’t know as of yet,” Sekeres said. Later in the interview, Sekeres said, “We may know of another unit, where she took some money.”

Conway chimed in, “Yeah and we’re probably going to hire an auditor because these accounts have to be reconciled.”

The police recording shows Conway and Sekeres were very concerned how the fraud report would become public and how it would be portrayed by the Independent. They told investigators they hoped police would disguise the report as a bike theft in a police blotter – a list of selected cases released every two weeks by the Police Department.

The police blotter reported accurately that officers were investigating a “misappropriation of funds.”

When asked about the manager’s abrupt departure in May, Conway told the Independent Rodriguez left the job for medical reasons. But Conway told police Rodriguez offered to resign when confronted with the alleged fraud.

In this image provided by Key Biscayne Police, Maria Rodriguez is seen at the police station, August 8, 2023. She is facing fraud and grand theft charges for allegedly funneling owner maintenance fee payments into a separate banking account (Key Biscayne Police via KBI)

Rodriguez did not return a phone message seeking comment. She was released after posting $10,000 bond on the current charge. Her attorney, Carlos Ziegenhirt, declined comment.

Police said Rodriguez had also been arrested in the past. Court records show a prosecution for credit card fraud in 1993, but the case was dropped after completion of a pretrial diversion program.

Rodriguez, 50, had worked in some capacity at EmeraldBay for two decades.

The alleged victims in the pending case, Andres Ricketts Bustamante and Maria Canepa Castro, had records they’d paid fees regularly. But Castle Group – the property management company – was threatening legal action against them for non-payment.

The owners went to Rodriguez. “She told us no, this is going to get fixed. We’re working with an accountant, with Castle Group,” Ricketts told police.

A detective told the couple Rodriguez was editing the delinquency list so residents did not know she was stealing their money. 

Police said Rodriguez had the couple make out the checks to “KCC Inc.,” an alias for KC Complete Inc., a company Rodriguez formed in 2015. 

KC Complete, which is listed in state records as inactive, was formed so that it mimicked an official condominium account, police said. 

When confronted by Conway, Rodriguez told her that “KCC Inc.” was formed for her side hustle – obtaining payments from residents who were renting parking spaces at the complex. 

Investigators said they are looking into whether Rodriguez broke the law by profiting off of parking spaces.

“A property manager running resident parking spots through her own company feels like that is a conflict of interest,” Gambirazio said.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor 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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