The Bad Karma Motel

The owner just wants out. The informant's cover has been blown. The defense lawyer is always on the offensive. In the war to spiff up Biscayne Boulevard's low-rent motels, the case of the Camelot Inn is the strangest battle yet.

No one told Forestier, though. When he finally found out shortly before the November 22 hearing, he was incensed and later filed a complaint with the police department's Internal Affairs division. Conflict-of-interest allegations against Nichols, the subject of a January 19 New Times story titled, "The Really Good Neighbor Policy," are still under investigation.

Probes into alleged misconduct by others involved with the Metro/Camelot case were to come in the weeks that followed.

Police say confidential informants come in all types and have different motives. Generally they're people who have been convicted of crimes who want to reduce their prison sentences; occasionally they are law-abiding citizens who want to help fight crime. Some, such as those who work for the Drug Enforcement Administration or U.S. Customs, are paid thousands of dollars. Others work for free.

CI Number Eleven says she doesn't work for nothing, and that she considers the activity a part-time job. Like many CIs, she has developed a specialty. Hers is undercover drug buys. And although she has a lengthy criminal record that includes two prison stints, Sandy says she never took on a case in order to get a softer sentence or otherwise mitigate a legal penalty.

She says she's been an informant for 22 years, for five law enforcement agencies, a claim not disputed by some of the police detectives with whom she has worked. None would agree to be quoted by name for this article. (Formally, no law enforcement agency will confirm or deny the existence of an informant.) But when her identity became known to the Biscayne dealers and she began speaking about her work to her friends and the press, her police associates became uncomfortable.

"It's real touchy," cautions one detective, who isn't a member of the City of Miami force. He says he has warned Sandy about the hazards of being too open about her law enforcement connections. "I really am upset she's even talked to you," he adds. "As far as I'm concerned, we're not going to use her any more. It's her life she's putting in danger. I can't understand what her motives are.

She's good at what she does. So it surprised me. Right now I guarantee no one will work with her."

The detective acknowledges a long association with Sandy A and a genuine affection for her. "You get close to them sometimes," he says. "But never in the sense of going over to their side. I can't believe anything she says; that's the way you have to treat them." According to the detective, Sandy doesn't take drugs or have a serious drinking problem: "She's a very bright girl, but she just can't get her life straightened out."

Sandy's background is solidly middle-class Miami. Her father and mother, well-educated residents of Havana who fell in love with the U.S. during a vacation in the late Forties, immigrated here in 1950. Born in 1954, Sandy was the third of their four children who grew up in a tree-shaded house on a canal in North Miami. All four attended private Catholic schools. Sandy wanted to be a lawyer, but by the time she earned her bachelor's degree in criminal science at Florida International University in 1980, she'd already been arrested for shoplifting. Since then, there have been thousands of dollars' worth of bad checks and thefts, and the two stretches spent in prison.

At age 40, Sandy has short, graying hair, prominent features, and large dark eyes with heavy lids that sometimes make her look sleepy or dull. Her rhythmic, singsong speech veers in and out of street talk. "I just let people think I'm dimwitted," she confides with a lopsided shrug. She says her life of crime began after her husband's accidental death in 1979, and was spurred by her rape the following year. "I went ballistic. I just didn't care. I would go out and buy things with forged checks. I would buy people VCRs," she says, adding that she never told her family about the sexual assault.

Even before that, and before she began her criminal-justice studies, Sandy was a police informant. She says the first time was in the mid-Seventies, when a man offered to sell her a gun from a large stash in the trunk of his car. She told him to come back the next day, then called North Miami police. They set up a trap but the man never returned. Undeterred, Sandy continued to be alert for other crimes she could assist with, and as she racked up her own felony convictions and robbed herself of the opportunity to become an attorney in Florida, she continued to expand her law enforcement contacts. "I kept saying to myself, 'Damn, there's a gold mine out there,'" she recalls with a thin-lipped grin. She first worked with Miami police two years ago, she says, when she called to tell them she'd found "a really nice crack house." ("As a CI, that's how you market yourself," she explains.)

While she was making the drug buys last summer, Sandy was living in a room at the Seven Seas. Management kicked her out at the end of August, not because she was a confidential informant, but because of her four cats. She promptly moved fifteen blocks north to the Metro. "That's where everything was going on," she explains. "It was a CI's dream. I could find out anything I wanted to know about the street in that motel."

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