When we received a tip last weekend that Fort Myers Beach patrol employee Roxanne Tucci put on a disguise and went undercover to catch a restaurant violating an ordinance, we didn’t believe it. After all, the town says repeatedly, code enforcement is complaint driven. Well, we were wrong.
On Thursday, Tucci admitted to Town Magistrate Myrnable Roche she went undercover, pretending to be a customer for two days in March. The goal was to catch Sunset Beach Tropical Grill employees in the act of renting beach chairs to her without her purchasing anything from the restaurant.
The restaurant does not have a permit to rent chairs on the beach. However, the chairs can be used by customers of the restaurant. Owner Terry Persaud says customers are given a wristband and told they will be charged a fee on their bill to use the chairs.
Months ago the town code enforcement department ticketed Persaud, claiming he violated the ordinance. They took over 100 pictures of people using the chairs but apparently none of those pictures showed an exchange of money between someone who was not a customer and an employee of the restaurant. And, the fines for Persaud were racking up at $250 per day until the matter was resolved.
Perhaps knowing that they needed more evidence to win their case against Persaud the town sent Tucci undercover last weekend. She testified in front of the magistrate that, on two separate days, she rented chairs without buying anything from the restaurant. We understand there is also video of the transaction taken place. That was never played for the Magistrate Thursday. Tucci also said she also witnessed another transaction while she was sitting in the rented beach chair.
Persaud said, if it happened, it is not the policy of the restaurant and it could have been a rogue employee. He said he would fire any employee if he knew they were breaking the rule.
The Magistrate ruled that Persaud was in violation of her previous order not to rent the beach chairs. He was ordered to pay $9,575 in fines to the town. Magistrate Roche warned Persaud to stop renting chairs and said the next time he violates her ruling it would be $500 per day.