FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – An 11-year employee at the Broward County Records and Treasury Division was arrested Thursday on multiple felony charges.
Roberto Martinez, 46, is charged with 102 felony counts of numerous charges including organized fraud, money laundering, ID theft, uttering forged instruments and official misconduct.
Martinez refused to speak to Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman on Thursday morning, running through County Hall to evade the camera, about an hour before he was arrested in his county office.
Martinez is accused of engaging in an organized scheme to defraud $1.6 million in county surplus funds along with five co-conspirators operating through several bogus companies.
Martinez ran the office that was in charge of selling homes whose owners had failed to pay their taxes, commonly known as tax deed sales.
Surplus money from those sales -- money not taken by tax certificate holders, creditors, etc., are supposed to be returned to the previous owners.
According to an arrest report, Martinez used his county position to divert that money to his co-conspirators through forged power-of-attorneys.
In all, there were 20 victims of the $1.6 million fraud scheme that operated for about a year and a half, according to Broward sheriff’s Detective John Calabro and BSO records.
"It is obvious that (Martinez) provided (his co-conspirators) information," Calabro said. "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."
The county has already been hit with lawsuits from at least two victims.
Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said the county cooperated fully in the investigation and has already changed the way it handles such sales to protect the public.
"It's hard to imagine that he did this," she said.
Sharief said that when the county learned of the investigation, Martinez was transferred to a position where he would have no ability to handle any more county money until his arrest.
She said the county has already instituted a new system of checks and balances in the tax deed sales office.
"We implemented some other procedures to prevent this from ever happening again," Sharief said.
The scheme is believed to have started on or around May 1, 2014, and is believed to have continued through about June 30, 2016.
Calabro said Martinez, whose county salary was $42,000 a year, is being held at the county jail in lieu of a $915,000 bond.
Warrants have also been issued for five others who are accused in the case, including Marc Eugene, Patricia Eugene, Dim Villarson, Denis Eugene and Gawens St. Victor.
Calabro said some of the accused co-conspirators have already hired attorneys and they are expected to be rounded up by authorities on Thursday and Friday, with some possibly turning themselves in.