Recent news reports chronicle the tale of a former Marco Island city council member who was charged with three counts of forgery of a ballot envelope and three counts of criminal use of personal identification information, which is third-degree felony, in his condominium association’s annual board of directors election.
The reports from the Naples Daily News and several Southwest Florida television stations indicate Victor Rios, 78, was charged with forging ballots for the Belize Condominium Association election to remain a board member. Several ballots for the property’s March 2019 condo election were cast under the names of residents who testified that they had not voted in the election, and their signatures on the outer ballot envelopes were forgeries.
Complaints alleging election fraud were filed with the state’s Division of Condominiums under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and with the Marco Island Police Department. MIPD subsequently asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the matter because Rios was a sitting city council member at the time.
FDLE lab analysis eventually revealed a DNA profile matching Rios on the ballots cast in the names of the residents who had not voted. The ballot envelopes contained personal identification information of the victims, including their names, condo numbers, and forged signatures.
Rios turned himself in to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Department of Corrections on Feb. 5 and has since been released after posting a $30,000 bond.
As these and other recent media reports illustrate, the changes to the state’s laws in 2017 to add teeth to the criminal penalties and enforcement for community association fraud seem to be helping to prosecute some perpetrators, but election fraud as well as theft and embezzlement continue to remain serious problems for some communities. Associations should work very closely with highly qualified and experienced legal counsel to oversee their annual meetings and elections, and they must be vigilant in monitoring for any potential election irregularities that should raise a red flag and require immediate attention.
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