An investigation into “a scheme to defraud” of more than $50,000 prompted Jupiter police to search the home today of Kay-Lynette Roca, the recently ousted director of the no-kill Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary in Jupiter, a search warrant provided to The Palm Beach Post by her attorney shows.
The charge is a serious felony that could result in 30 years of prison time, said Roca’s lawyer, Mitch Beers. He said Roca doesn’t know what police are after.
“She has no idea why she would even be investigated for any criminal offenses involving her service with Safe Harbor over the years,” Beers said. “She’s mystified, but she’s also hurt.”
Jupiter police seized computers, cellphones and financial records during the four-hour search of Roca’s Tequesta home.
The investigation followed Roca’s Jan. 16 ouster after 28 years of heading the multimillion-dollar, not-for-profit shelter and veterinary clinic.
Roca said she and her two daughters were patted down by armed police after they were roused by sirens and a command to come out with their hands in the air before 10 a.m. “I’ve never been so humiliated,” she said.
Police said they phoned first and, getting no answer, used a siren and a public address speaker to clear the Rocas from the house. No arrests were made.
In Sunday’s Post, Roca blamed her ouster and the criminal investigation on the board’s president and acting director, Carol Verdigi, who heads the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s special events division, including its animal kindness unit.
Verdigi and two of her recruits to the board — a retired sheriff’s employee and a sheriff’s office detective who handles animal cruelty cases — voted on Jan. 16 to fire Roca, who cast the lone vote against. A fifth board member resigned shortly before the vote and another missed the meeting.
Patty Palmer Amoroso, who moved into the position of operations manager with Roca’s ouster, told The Post earlier this month that an internal probe and the police investigation will explain the board’s action. “All I can tell you is, the decision (to fire Roca) was made for just cause,” Amoroso said. “To assure that Safe Harbor could have a future.”
Roca defended herself, saying she had never taken anything from Safe Harbor. “I resent anyone who takes so much as a roll of toilet paper from that place,” she said last week.
Roca gave The Post emails and text messages that showed that Verdigi has been board president since May and took over as acting director with Roca’s ouster. As recently as August, the Verdigi-led board gave Roca a raise from $96,000 a year to $125,000 and a $50,000 allowance toward a new sports utility vehicle.
Verdigi now drives the vehicle and is being paid $45 an hour as acting director.
But Roca said the relationship soured after she refused to employ Verdigi’s ex-husband and prepared to discipline or fire Amoroso, who had been moved from marketing director to hospital director.