The former EmeraldBay condominium manager Maria Ferrer Rodriguez plans to plead not guilty and go to trial on charges of stealing maintenance fees from a unit owner, her attorney said in court Monday.
Lawyer Carlos Ziegenhirt said he was ready to formally enter the plea during an arraignment hearing. Prosecutor Corrie Chase, however, asked for a postponement – the second – until Sept. 19.
It is the first time that Rodriguez has denied the charges publicly. Rodriguez was not required to be in court and her attorney appeared by Zoom. She did appear the first time her case was called up last Thursday.
Ziegenhirt said in a text message neither he nor Rodriguez will ever comment on the case but not before saying his client “will likely never appear in court again.” Chase said she did not know why the office had decided to again postpone the formal charges, but delays are not uncommon in the crowded criminal justice system.
Rodriguez, 53, is accused of funneling two checks of more than $7,000 into her private account at the posh condominium, part of the large Key Colony complex. She is charged with grand theft and an organized scheme to defraud – both felonies carrying a maximum five-year prison term.
The Independent reported after her arrest that a member of the EmeraldBay board said another resident came forward saying he had been defrauded of about $27,000. However, that resident so far has declined to file a police report.
EmeraldBay Board President Bonnie Sekeres told the Independent she knew of no other resident who was defrauded – however, she told police there was belief the fraud may have involved others,, a recording of her interview with police showed.
Rodriguez’s employment ended around May 12 after the resident – and two members of the board – went to police to report what was then described as a “misappropriation of funds.”
At the time, then-Board President Louisa Conway said Rodriguez had resigned for health reasons. But Conway told police Rodriguez had offered her resignation when she was confronted with the missing fee check.
Rodriguez was employed by Castle Group, a management company hired by EmeraldBay. The EmeraldBay board has made no efforts to remove Castle in the wake of Rodriguez’s arrest.
Castle has repeatedly not returned phone calls for comment.
The missing money became apparent when Castle started contacting unit owners saying they faced legal action because of nonpayment of maintenance fees. The unit owners, though, came forward showing proof that they had paid the fees.
Andres Ricketts Bustamante and Maria Canepa Castro, a married couple, filed a police report in May that their money had been instead diverted into Rodriguez’s private account.
Ricketts told Key Biscayne police that Rodriguez would have him write out his maintenance fee checks to KCC Inc. – a private corporation owned by the former property manager
“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 told police that her business was created to assist unit owners to rent out their parking spaces and that the maintenance fee checks had been deposited into that account – two checks in the amount of $3,647.63.