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Former property manager Tony Rodriguez claims in a lawsuit he was unfairly fired from his position of 25 years at the Botanica condominium by an abusive board for a $105,000 email fraud that was not his fault.

“Mr. Rodriguez was wrongfully terminated and/or used as a scapegoat as a result of the phishing incident,” the suit claims. 

A con artist tricked another Botanica employee through a phishing ruse to reroute the monthly payment made to the Key Colony Homeowners‘  Association for Botanica’s share in the luxury complex’s upkeep.  The Key Biscayne Police Department said in April 2023 all but $4,000 of the $105,000 stolen had been recovered —  but no arrests were made.

Rodriguez, in his Jan. 22 complaint, said he told Botanica’s board of directors that administrative office staff was understaffed and under trained.  The lawsuit claims retaliatory discharge, discrimination because of his marital status, and defamation. It says a severance offered to Rodriguez was unacceptable compensation.

Three Botanica board members – Matt Bramson, Maria Bueno, David McDanal- are being sued individually  in the lawsuit, along with the  Key Colony master association. Matt Bramson , Botanica’s president, is specifically mentioned in the defamation count of the suit. 

The main count of the lawsuit is based on a Florida law that grants employees protection in cases where they alert a governmental agency to alleged wrongdoing. The complaint does not specify which agency was alerted and is unclear about what he claims is wrongdoing. It says Rodriguez opposed Bramson’s  “impermissible activities, including his attempts to install a property management company for the Property.” 

It’s not clear what law – if any – might have been broken by the use of a property management company, although Rodriguez said in court papers that using a company would run afoul of a unit owner vote, but no details were cited. 

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Rodriguez, in the lawsuit, said that to expedite payment the Botanica board agreed with Key Colony to eliminate a two-signature requirement on payment over Rodriguez’s concerns. 

Then an imposter in November 2022 inserted themselves into the email conversation between Key Colony and Botanica office staff regarding the monthly payment. The thief spoofed the Key Colony administrative assistant’s email address and directed the $105,000 payment to a different bank account.

It took a month before the fraud was detected. Rodriguez was fired in January 2023. He had worked for Botanica since 1998 in some capacity.

Rodriguez claims in the lawsuit he was also subject to discrimination because of his marriage to Maria Ferrer Rodriguez, who was the property manager of EmeraldBay – another  building in the luxury Key Colony complex.

After Tony Rodriguez was fired, Maria Ferrer Rodriguez was charged last June with grand theft for allegedly pilfering $7,900 in maintenance fees. Rodriguez claims Bramson would reference his wife during board meetings to embarrass him. 

Matt Bramson told the Independent in January of 2023 that Rodriguez was terminated not because of the email fraud but because of performance and skill-set issues.  However, Bramson said, at the time, that the phishing incident was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” a comment cited by Rodriguez in his lawsuit.

Bramson said on Wednesday that the board had yet not been served with Rodriguez’s lawsuit and could not comment.. A closed board meeting is set for Friday afternoon.

Rodriguez, when reached by phone, said he did not have any additional comment on the lawsuit. His lawyer, Payton McCann, did not return a phone call or email.

The other board members named in the lawsuit – Bueno and McDanal – did not return voice messages seeking comment.

Rodriguez claims he told the board repeatedly that the administrative staff needed help after the bookkeeper position was eliminated during the pandemic.  “Mr. Rodriguez voiced concerns at board budget meetings and advised the board that the administrative office needed help, especially bookkeeping,” the lawsuit states

Rodriguez alleges the three Botanica board members named were also abusive to himself and the other administrative staffer, screaming and throwing papers at them.

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John Pacenti

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.

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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.