Friday, December 3, 2021

Rios Saga Continues with Setting of Court Date


Photos by Steve Stefanides


 

21st Century technology was put into use on Thursday, May 6, when former Marco Island City Councilor Victor Rios had his trial date set for July 15 of this year. The former councilor surrendered to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on February 5 regarding six third-degree felony counts regarding alleged forging of documents in the 2019 elections for the Belize Condominium Association. Rios appeared via the electronic Zoom process before Collier County Superior Court Justice Romiro Mañalich.

Rios resigned from the Marco Island City Council effective October 30, 2019, citing personal reasons. His condominium at the Belize had been placed on the market well in advance of his resignation from council, leaving some to wonder why he chose to stay on council as long as he did, thus allowing council to appoint a replacement for Rios, rather than have someone run for election. The appointment process takes effect if less than 28 months are left in the unexpired term of a resigning member, according to the City Charter. Rios had been occupying the seat on council since his election in November of 2018, and by delaying his resignation, triggered the appointment process.

Rios sat uncharacteristically quiet as the States Attorney and Rios’ defense attorney answered questions posed to them by Collier Circuit Court Judge Mañalich. 

The Condo Association showed that 144 ballots were received out of 148 owners eligible to vote during the election. Allegedly, 16 of those ballots were not submitted by their owners, as detailed in a complaint filed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) on April 26, 2019. Of those 16 owners, ten have filed notarized affidavits alleging fraud in the election process.

The DBPR turned the matter over to the Marco Island Police Department because the inference of criminal activity. Due to the sensitivity of the matter, then-Police-Chief Al Schettino sought an impartial review of the matter by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) shortly after receipt of the packet from the DBPR

After Rios surrendered to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, he subsequently posted a $30,000 bond. On February 9, 2021, Rios waived his right to a speedy trial and requested a trial by jury. There is a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5000 for each offense. Rios therefore could be facing a 30-year incarceration and up to a $30,000 fine. There is no minimum sentence for a third-degree felony in Florida.

Judge Mañalich set July 15 at 1:30 pm for Rios’ trial. However, some doubt if that date will result in start of the trial. Earlier, when Judge Mañalich inquired of Assistant State Attorney Tino Cimato and Rios’ Defense Attorney Seth Kolton as to whether they had discussed a plea deal, Cimato responded they had not.

Some within the state feel that this may be a referendum on how serious the state takes its responsibilities in dealing with condo and homeowner association regulatory matters of alleged abuse, as the DBPR has come under some criticism over the last several years. 

 


 

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