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Everybody liked Maria.

A veteran employee who rose from an administrative assistant to property manager at Emerald Bay, residents turned to Maria Rodriguez when they needed to solve any number of problems. They trusted her with their money, handing over checks for maintenance fees, parking spots.

Now she is charged with stealing that very money.

“She was nice,” resident Maria Canepa Castro told police in an interview session that revealed the couple was becoming exasperated. 

Rodriguez is accused of funneling more than $7,000 of Canepa’s and her husband’s maintenance fees into her own private account under the name of a corporation she formed. Rodriguez stands charged with two third degree felonies.

Records show Rodriguez has not yet entered a plea and that a formal arraignment is set for next month. Her attorney declined to comment. An arraignment is set for next month.

The Independent reported Thursday a member of the EmeraldBay board of directors said he knows of another resident who also had $27,000 of his maintenance fees funneled into Rodriguez’s account.

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Police were told that EmeraldBay board of directors were aware of other residents who may have been victimized by Rodriguez.

Rodriguez formed her corporation in 2015, but never filed annual reports needed to keep it active, state records show. Canepa and her husband – Andres Ricketts Bustamante – told police they started getting delinquency notices in 2019 for fees they had paid to Rodriguez. 

The property manager told them not to worry, it was an accounting glitch. But the couple kept getting the delinquency notices from Rodriguez’s employer – the Castle Group, which manages the building under a contract. 

“When I received one of those letters, I got really annoyed. ‘Hey, Maria, what is happening? Come on,” Ricketts said. 

Former EmeraldBay Board President Louisa Conway, in a separate interview with police, said, “It was a surprise to me that she was collecting for so long was a shock,” Conway said.

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Bustamante said he asked Rodriguez to see the delinquency list and his name was not on it. Police say Rodriguez was covering her tracks. 

“What she was doing was taking their name off of it so they couldn’t be aware that she was stealing their money,” Det. Carlo Ugalde told the couple during their interview.. 

Rodriguez said that her corporation – KC Complete Inc. – was set up to receive money for residents renting parking spaces to others, according to the arrest report. 

Ricketts and Canepa said they also cut a separate check, amounting to $100 a month, for a parking space. But then Canepa ran into the owner. 

“He met with my wife in the lobby of the Emerald Bay and told her that he had never received any payment for 10 years,” Ricketts said.

Police Chief Frank Sousa said that police consider Rodriguez taking money for parking spaces from residents a civil matter. 

As early as November 2022, EmeraldBay was reporting that some unit owner accounts were delinquent. An email from Rodriguez said $9,055 in fees that were due to the master Association remained uncollected.

Conway told investigators that Rodriguez was nonchalant and annoyed when confronted in April about the fees. Conway said Rodriguez told her, “I had a lot of checks that day and by mistake and just rushing and trying to get to the bank, I put Key Colony.”

Rodriguez then offered her resignation. 

“I said, I’ll take your resignation,” Conway stated. “That’s not the issue. But what are you gonna do about this amount that they’re owed?“

After she offered her resignation, Rodriguez attended a board meeting at EmeraldBay and left early. “She did not take this as a big deal,” Conway said.

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.


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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