On March 22, 2019 the Belize Condominium Association, Inc. (the “Association”), the association for the Belize at Cape Marco located at 970 Cape Marco Drive, Marco Island, held their Annual Meeting and 2019 elections.
During the election, 144 ballots were received out of the 148 owners eligible to vote. As a result of the election, Victor Rios and Joseph Shady were re-elected to the Board of Directors, with Rios continuing to serve as Board President. Rios is also the Vice Chair of the Marco Island City Council.
In a complaint filed April 26, 2019 with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes, (DBPR) it is alleged that 16 of the ballots from the March 22 election “were submitted under the names of unit owners who did not cast such votes during the Election.”
Of those 16 owners, 10 have submitted sworn affidavits to the DBPR, each stating that they “did not submit a ballot or ballot envelope for the 2019 Annual Membership Meeting and Annual Election of the Board of Directors of the Association held on March 22, 2019.” The majority of the 10 affidavits were signed by owners out of state.
The April 26, 2019 DBPR complaint was filed by Joseph Fleming, an owner of record within the Belize at Cape Marco, through his attorney Melissa S. Turra, Esquire of the law firm Holland and Knight, LLP.
Fleming’s attorney had previously issued a Demand Letter to the Belize Board of Directors on April 17, 2019, constituting “a final demand for relief based upon the acts of [alleged] forgery committed by or at the request of certain members of the Board, or for their benefit.”
As part of the April 17, 2019 Demand Letter, Attorney Turra requested that “Mr. Rios and Mr. Joseph Shady each tender his immediate resignation as a director and officer of the Association based upon their respective violation of Section 718.112(2)(d)(2), Florida Statutes.” Florida Statute 718.112(2)(d)(2) prohibits board members from serving more than eight consecutive years, unless elected by a two-thirds majority of those voting in an election. Rios has served on the board for 12 years and Shady for 13 years.
In the April 26, 2019 DBPR complaint (Complaint Attachment A, Section I), Fleming alleged that Rios, who was President of the Belize Board of Directors, participated in the fraudulent ballot initiative to get himself and Shady re-elected to the Board.
The 66-page Complaint document includes a handwriting analysis by a forensic document examiner with The Drake Group, who reviewed the signatures on the ballots in question. The conclusion was that the ballots in question “displayed the hallmarks of disguised handwriting/printing to include tremor in execution” and further, “display indications of common authorship.” This analysis was made part of the Complaint which alleges that Rios authored the ballots in question.
The DBPR confirmed with Coastal Breeze News that no less than five complaints concerning the Belize Condominium Association election had been received as of May 10th of this year.
In response to an inquiry by Coastal Breeze News as to how the April 26 Complaint would be handled, the representative for the DBPR responded, “However, since the allegation in question involves the reporting of a crime, in this case dealing with forged documents, the Division would not proceed with an investigation. Instead the Division has referred this matter to the Marco Island Police Department.”
Coastal Breeze News contacted the Marco Island Police Department, whose representative stated that as of May 15, 2019, the department was in receipt of the documents from the DBPR.
Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino stated: “The information we have received has been referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for an impartial investigation of the matter.” Chief Schettino declined further comment.
Forging signatures on official documents is a third-degree felony, punishable by fines up to $5,000 and up to five years in jail.
The Board of Directors of the Belize has subsequently received the resignations of both Victor Rios and Joseph Shady. Both men believed that they had been grandfathered under the Florida State Statute concerning term limits. Once clarified, Rios and Shady submitted their resignations.
Coastal Breeze News contacted Victor Rios, who provided the following comment: “These are malicious allegations. In due time, they will prove to be false.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will determine whether they will proceed with the investigation of the alleged forgery of documents.
Coastal Breeze News will continue to report on this story as more information becomes available.