Busted Rackets

The guy who turned Crandon Park around gets canned. It makes no cents.

County officials estimate Maharaj earned $7500 from his business. Maharaj claims he made less, citing the money he spent on strings, clamps, and the machines. He also notes that the park is closed to the public for 35 days before the tournament and 45 days afterward.

For Vivian Rodriguez, director of Park and Recreation, the situation was clear-cut: "Nobody would deny it was a good idea, but the proper way to do it is to establish a fee and run it through the register. We don't have people getting a 90 percent cash take." She added that Maharaj's supervisor, Tim Byrnes, was demoted for not having paid closer attention to what was going on. (Indeed Maharaj says Byrnes gave him verbal permission to drive the pickup truck to his house.)

Nonetheless Maharaj says the situation is unfair. He had loaned his old tennis rackets to the facility for rental. "We did more money on rental rackets than we did on stringing," he says. "Every penny went into the register, and the county didn't own any of those rackets." (Racket rental was discontinued after Maharaj left and took his rackets with him.)

Vishnu Maharaj played to win
Jacqueline Carini
Vishnu Maharaj played to win

Location Info

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Crandon Park Tennis Center

7300 Crandon Blvd.
Key Biscayne, FL 33149

Category: Sports and Recreation

Region: Key Biscayne

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After the accusations against him came to light, Maharaj sent his own dirty laundry list to County Manager George Burgess. It alleged, among other things, that Director Rodriguez had been given free racket stringing, had taken tennis balls and a sweatshirt from the pro shop, and had accepted the gift of a tennis racket from Wilson.

Rodriguez denies each accusation. "He responded with a series of inaccuracies and half-truths," she says. "We don't even sell rackets at the pro shop."

As for the free racket stringing, Rodriguez says Maharaj was "trying to ingratiate himself with me and the supervisors." The half-case of balls that Maharaj alleged she stole? "Those were kept in the department," she says. "Several years ago we did a series of employee tennis afternoons because we wanted to encourage the sport — at his suggestion." The balls were used at the employee tennis clinic.

Maharaj also claimed in his list that he once had to escort an intoxicated County Commissioner Sally Heyman from the 2005 NASDAQ-100 Open. "You've got to be kidding," responded Heyman when she was informed of the charge. "Very rarely do I drink and never was I escorted out." She added that her attendance was limited at the event anyway, because she donates most of her tickets to local organizations for fundraising purposes.

Maharaj says his supervisors pocketed liquor provided by tournament sponsor Bacardi and that Byrnes took home eleven cases of tournament hats and two dozen junior tennis rackets. Rodriguez says the hats were given to volunteers parking cars outside. Byrnes declined to comment.

The future of Crandon Park's management is currently in limbo. Rodriguez says the county is doing a tennis market study. One possibility is to go the way of Miami Beach, where tennis complexes are run by private contractors. For now Crandon will be without racket rentals and repairs. And Maharaj must resign himself to finding a new job. "I really liked what we were doing in Miami-Dade," he sighs. "I would like to do the same type of thing elsewhere.

"Any time I have a chance to do something for the game, I do it," he adds. At least in this case, even when it goes against county policy.

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