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Birdseed spell backfires on Florida police employees

For two Florida municipal employees, an alleged plan to cast a supernatural spell on their boss was anything but super.

Due to some supposedly mystical birdseed and a janitor who blew the whistle on the seedy hex, one employee has been fired from her post at the North Miami Police Department and a recommendation for termination is pending for the other.

Veteran police officer Elizabeth Torres and office manager Yvonne Rodriguez's curse was to take place in August amid budget cuts and planned layoffs, but they never got past the planning stages.

"We were looking at a reduction in staff of about 9.4 percent, so everybody was on edge," North Miami Police Department Public Information Officer Mark Perkins told msnbc.com. "The two employees were conspiring to place birdseed in the city manager's office to get him to leave, the belief being that if you sprinkle birdseed around it, it will make the person - any person- want to leave." 

But since they didn't have access to City Manager Lyndon Bonner's office, the two approached a janitor, hoping they could recruit her to sprinkle the seeds, which they later told investigators is a Santeria ritual.

Esther Villaneuva, the janitor, was working her night shift on Aug. 29 when Torres and Rodriguez approached her with a container full of seeds, according to the department's internal affairs report. It was the first time Villaneuva had ever had a conversation with the two women, Villaneuva said. Torres told her to "just take a little bit of the birdseed and spread it," according to the department's report. Villaneuva said no, expressing worry about the security cameras monitoring the office, and also whether something bad could actually happen to the city manager.

Torres allegedly told her, "No. Nothing's going to happen to him. He's just gonna leave. It's just going to make him leave. Don't worry, nothing bad is going to happen to him." 

Torres even allegedly told her that she had used birdseed in her own house in the past, and it had resulted in her son and daughter going away for a couple of weeks.

When Villaneuva asked Torres why she didn't just spread the birdseed herself, Torres told her she didn't have an excuse for being in that part of the building at that time of night.

Villaneuva refused the request and told her boss, prompting an investigation that eventually led to Rodriguez, the office manager, getting fired last week.

"The police officer has union protection, the office manager does not, so technically, the police officer still has not been terminated, although recommendation for that is pending," Perkins said. Officer Torres will go to court for her appeal on Monday, he added.

Both maintained the plot was harmless, according to transcripts in the internal affairs report, which the North Miami Police Department released Wednesday.

'Nothing malicious ... a superstitious practice'
Torres, who has worked as a North Miami police officer since 1987, told investigators, "I want to clarify that it's nothing malicious and nothing intended to hurt that person. Just, just it can be viewed as either a superstitious practice or a religious practice in the Santeria religion ... This is something I was raised with as a child, all these superstitions and this quasi-religion."

Rodriguez initially denied involvement in the plot, department spokesman Perkins told msnbc.com, and was fired for "conduct unbecoming." She has worked for the department since 1996.

"The second time, she told the truth," he said. "If you work for a police department, that's not an option."

According to the report, Rodriguez said she didn't provide accurate information in the first interview because she "wasn't the initiator of this whole ordeal" and she feared getting in trouble.

Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion centered in Cuba that became more widely practiced in the U.S. and other nearby countries, particularly following the 1959 Cuban revolution, according to the BBC. The religion is revolves around relationships between humans and spirits, who followers believe will help them in their lives if appropriate rituals are carried out.

And despite what Torres said about birdseed, University of Miami Religious Studies Profess Michelle Maldonado told Miami's WSVN.com, "In Santeria, you can't just spread birdseed and make the supernatural do what you want it to do."