For owners within the Belize Condominium Association, it has been a journey of almost two years, beginning with what they believed to be illegal acts concerning a board of directors election within the association. Several owners who had never submitted ballots found ballots had been received by the association for that election with what they said were forged signatures.
Condo President and Marco Island City Councilor Victor Rios was at the center of that alleged controversy which quickly escalated into a criminal matter.
The Association showed that 144 ballots were received out of the 148 owners eligible to vote during the election. Allegedly, 16 of those ballots were never submitted by their owners, as detailed in a complaint filed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on April 26. Of those 16 owners, 10 have filed Notarized Affidavits alleging fraud in the election process as of this date.
The law offices of Holland and Knight who represent Joseph Fleming, an owner of the record within the Belize complex, issued a Demand Letter on April 17, 2019, to the Belize Board of Directors requesting they immediately disqualify two of the directors elected at the March 22 meeting. They did so by claiming Mr. Victor Rios and Mr. Joseph Shady violated Florida State Statute 718.112(2)(d)(2), which disallows board members serving more than eight consecutive years, unless elected by a two-thirds majority of those voting in an election. Mr. Rios has served on the board for 12 years and Mr. Shady for 13 years.
As part of that Demand Letter dated April 17, 2019, Melissa Turra, the attorney of record for Holland and Knight, would also issue a final demand for relief based upon acts of alleged forgery committed by or at the request of certain members of the board.
In the complaint filed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on April 26, 2019, Mr. Fleming alleges that Mr. Rios, who was President of the Belize Board of Directors, participated in the fraudulent ballot initiative. The Complaint as filed with the DBPR consisted of a 66-page document, which also included a handwriting analysis by a Forensic Document Examiner who reviewed those signatures.
Due to the potential of possible “criminal activity,” the DBPR referred the matter over to the Marco Island Police Department for their review and investigation of the alleged illegal activity.
“Under Florida Public Records Laws, the complaint is confidential and exempt from public records requests. The information we have received has been referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for an impartial investigation of the matter,” said Chief Al Schettino who chose to not comment further.
The forging of signatures on official documents may be punished by a third-degree felony with fines up to $5000 and up to 5 years in jail for each violation.
The FDLE concluded their investigation and forwarded their reports over to the States Attorney General for the 20th Judicial Circuit in early Fall of 2020. In response to the Coastal Breeze News’ request for an update on the case in October 2020, Assistant State Attorney Jody Brown responded, “There are no public records available at this time as it is an active investigation.” Her office subsequently sent investigators into the Belize early this year to interview subjects who had been involved in the vote tabulation process.
Law Enforcement officials from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office came to the Belize to take Rios into custody. After his resignation from the Marco Island City Council, which took effect at the end of October 2020, Mr. Rios moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and sold his residence in the Belize.
The paperwork for his arrest was subsequently forwarded to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office later on Friday, resulting in Mr. Rios’ arrest on six separate Felony Warrants relating to the investigation. Rios was placed into custody and spent the night in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department of Correction and was released just prior to 6 AM on Saturday morning on $30,000 bail.