Louisa Conway, a politically active Key Biscayne condominium leader, is facing a demand to testify in a civil deposition later this month in a lawsuit between warring condominium associations in one of Miami’s toniest apartment complexes.
Conway is also under a demand to produce a sweeping set of documents including financial records, internal emails and text messages between board members and current and former employees. The deposition is aimed at probing why Conway’s building, EmeraldBay, stopped paying tens of thousands of dollars in common charges to the master association.
The deposition was set prior to the arrest of a former EmeraldBay manager who is facing grand theft and fraud charges. Maria Rodriguez, who reported to Conway and the Castle Group property management firm, is accused of siphoning unit owner maintenance fees into a business she created in 2015.
Rodriguez herself was subpoenaed to give sworn testimony in the lawsuit, but the session was abruptly canceled Thursday by the master association less than three hours before she was set to appear . Rodriguez has not entered a plea according to the court docket, but all defendants have a presumption of innocence. Her attorney has declined comment.
The Key Colony Homeowners’ Association manages the front entrance, ocean beach, roads, saunas, and tennis courts. It claims in the lawsuit EmeraldBay is breaching an implied contract that has existed for decades, in which the four Key Colony buildings pay the full maintenance fees for all 1,179 owners.
In turn, the buildings then pass along those charges to their residents. The system means owners only pay one maintenance bill, but it also means that the buildings are “fronting” the master association’s costs when owners are delinquent.
Starting in November, the HOA says EmeraldBay has only been paying a portion of those common charges. EmeraldBay says it should not be responsible for owners who are delinquent. At one point, it had an outstanding balance of more than $320,000, according to the HOA’s records, but General Manager Pedro Penate said the current outstanding amount is now closer to $170,000.
Messages were sent to Conway and to EmeraldBay attorney Craig Minko for comment on this story, but there was no response.
Conway’s testimony could be critical. A Nov. 14 email from EmeraldBay informed the HOA that “payment has been placed on hold by our Board President, Mrs. Conway.”
Conway has cut a prominent –though some would say polarizing –political path in Key Biscayne for years.
She has publicly sparred with other Village leaders, most notably former Mayor Mike Davey, and campaigned against a $100 million resiliency bond issue as part of an unsuccessful 2020 run for Village Council.
In the last election cycle, Conway helped lead a drive against several amendments to the Village Charter, succeeding on some and losing others, and was a vocal supporter of mayoral candidate Fausto Gomez.
Gomez was a colleague of Conway’s on the Key Biscayne Condominium President’s Council. She also is the treasurer of a registered island political committee, the Key Biscayne Lightkeepers.
The dispute between the two associations means EmeraldBay owners are, in effect, suing themselves. Penate said the HOA’s legal fees to date have been about $15,000, but that’s before the deposition and an upcoming court hearing. Because EmeraldBay owners are also members of the HOA, they could wind up footing a portion of the bill for both the HOA’s case and EmeraldBay’s defense of it.
In addition to Conway’s deposition, scheduled for Aug. 30, there is an Aug. 24 court hearing that could significantly alter how the case plays out. The HOA is asking a judge to strike EmeraldBay’s “affirmative defenses,” a legal move that –if granted – could limit EmeraldBay’s ability to make certain arguments.
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EDITOR’S NOTE– Winton is a unit owner at the Key Colony complex.