Broward County tax office employee Roberto Martinez was arrested at work on June 29 for his alleged involvement in a fraud scheme that netted $1.6 million from 28 county property owners.
Martinez, 46, faces multiple felony charges, including money laundering, organized scheme to defraud, grand theft, forgery, and official misconduct. He is being held on $915,000 bond. The press did not name an attorney for him.
According to the arrest warrant, Martinez handled surplus tax deed distributions for the Broward County Records and Treasury Division. He reportedly used his position to distribute over $1.6 million of surplus tax deed funds that were meant to be returned to homeowners.
The properties of the 28 owners Martinez purportedly defrauded were sold involuntarily at auctions to pay for taxes owed. Proceeds from the auction, called a tax deed sale, are used to pay the overdue taxes and accumulated interest, then any federal liens, mortgages or other debts. Whatever amount remains is given to the former owner.
The former owner can sign an agreement to give an individual or company the right to file for and collect the remaining funds on their behalf. Martinez reportedly forged power of attorney documents to gain access to the unclaimed funds, which can sometimes remain uncollected for long periods of time.
Martinez allegedly falsified the documents from 2014 to 2016 and stole the funds with the help of five others. They received and siphoned the ill-gotten funds through shell companies and managed to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars, the arrest warrant said. The victims were reportedly unaware of the funds, out of town, or even deceased,
“Martinez issued tax-deed refunds to a number of companies that were owned and operated by what appears to be associates of Martinez,” Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective John Calabro told the press. “Initially, he would submit letters to all possible lien-holders and when no one came forward he knew he had a pot of gold.”
His co-conspirators have been identified by state prosecutors as Patricia Eugene, Marc H. Eugene, Gawens St. Victor, Dim Villarson, and Denis Eugene. Arrest warrants have been issued for all of them on charges that include money laundering, grand theft, organized scheme to defraud, uttering forged instruments, and fraudulent use of personal identification information. Marc and Patricia Eugene reportedly have attorneys and plan to turn themselves in. Investigators are still looking for the other three.
“It is obvious that [Martinez] provided [his co-conspirators] information,” Calabro told Channel 10. “It is obvious that he participated in the fraud. They filed powers of attorney in each case and Mr. Martinez was in charge of reviewing the paperwork. He authorized the issuance of the checks. The investigation uncovered about $1.6 million in losses to numerous former owners of homes in Broward County.”
Martinez has been a county employee since 2006. He was placed on leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing. Officials reportedly told news sources that they have upgraded the county’s policies to ensure this crime doesn’t happen again.
“We’ve worked with our county attorney’s office to further strengthen our procedures for accepting powers of attorney,” Tom Kennedy, Director of Records at Broward’s Records and Treasury Division, told NBC 6.