Downtown Orlando hotel owner claims repairman 'sabotaged' elevators

Lawsuit: Contractor extorted $216K to restore elevator service

ORLANDO, Fla. – The owner of the recently renovated Marriott Orlando Downtown claims a man hired to refurbish and modernize seven elevators "sabotaged"  the equipment shortly before the hotel re-opened to the public.

AFP 109 Corp, which owns the franchised hotel across from the Bob Carr Theater on Livingston Street, claims the Ft. Myers-based Elevator Works, “held the hotel's elevators hostage in order to force the (hotel owner) into a one-sided contract," according to a lawsuit filed in Orange County Circuit Court.

Elevator Works owner Jonnathan Mariotti denies disabling the elevators at the same time construction crews were putting the finishing touches on the hotel renovations.

But Mariotti acknowledged to News 6 that he did withhold computer codes required to operate the elevators until AFP 109 Corp settled a long-standing financial dispute.

About a year into their contract, the hotel owner and elevator contractor began to have financial disputes, according to the lawsuit.

In early May, the hotel owner claims Mariotti disabled the only elevator in use on the project.

"Defendants knew that sabotaging the elevator in question would result in a potential delay in opening the hotel and, as such, a massive revenue loss to the Plantiff," the lawsuit states.

AFP 109 Corp said it had "little choice" but to agree to change orders.

Seven months later, as their financial dispute continued, the hotel owner claims Mariotti snuck into the hotel early in the morning and disabled all of the hotel's elevators.

In their lawsuit, the hotel owners attached surveillance camera photos that allegedly show Mariotti walking through the building around 4 a.m. on Dec. 7. 

"Mariotti broke chains in place on the Plaintiff's property and on adjacent property owned by the University of Central Florida to gain access to the hotel," the lawsuit alleges.

The following morning, the hotel owners claim they received an email from Mariotti demanding a payment of $216,167 for what is described as an "outstanding balance."

"As soon as payment clears my account we can close this job out and I will provide you the pass codes for the elevators," the email stated.  "This is a much cheaper and faster option than using another company, which will result in modernizing your elevators again."

In a telephone interview and email exchanges with News 6, Mariotti acknowledged sending the email.

But the elevator contractor denies disabling the elevators in an attempt to extort money.

"We retained ownership of the software and pass codes until final payment was received," Mariotti said.  "Once payment was received everything was released to (the hotel owner)."

Mariotti said he was unable to file a lien against the hotel, which often occurs in other construction-related disputes, because his contract with the property owner prohibited it.

Mariotti said he and other employees of Elevator Works were frequently in the building at all hours of the day to finish the elevator renovations.

Although he could not immediately recall the date, Mariotti told News 6 that he did visit the hotel early one morning to retrieve an equipment trailer.

"I was breaking out, not breaking in," Mariotti said with a laugh.

Attorneys representing AFP 109 Corp did not indicate whether the hotel owner filed a police report against Mariotti.

Orlando police did not have records of a complaint filed against the elevator contractor, according to an agency spokesperson.

"It's comical," Mariotti said of the lawsuit.

The hotel owner's lawsuit seeks undisclosed damages.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades. Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, he has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida.