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.

From there, however, relations between the parties deteriorated, and their versions of events devolve into a contradictory tangle of cloak-and-dagger maneuvers reminiscent of a low-budget TV thriller. According to law enforcement sources familiar with the case, the matter is the subject of a pending police investigation.

After he first met with Sandy, Schwartz says, his clients and the informant were on good terms: She continued to live at the motel rent-free, and they encouraged her to help them identify and evict people she knew were criminals. Schwartz gave her a beeper (he says he gets them free and felt it was a good way to keep in touch). But he suspected Sandy was taping many of their conversations, particularly those in which she allegedly asked for money in exchange for not testifying against the Mesas at the upcoming NAB hearing. "I said, 'We can't do that; that'd be bribery,'" Schwartz recalls.

Sandy says she did wear a wire, a statement corroborated by a law enforcement source, who explains that a police investigation was initiated in late December, after Sandy told her supervisors that she was being offered money to not testify A by Schwartz and by James Angleton, owner of the recently sanctioned Economy Inn. (Angleton says Sandy approached him and asked for payment not to testify, whereupon he refused; he also told several people familiar with the matter that he believed she had been tape-recording their meeting.)

The TV-thriller mood took a dark turn two days before the NAB hearing. On the day after Christmas, when she returned to the Camelot after attending a mass for her parents' 50th wedding anniversary, Sandy discovered that her journal and probation papers were missing from the nightstand beside her bed. Someone had scrawled "Rat Bitch" in red on her door. In a statement made to police weeks later, Norma Guerrero, who had been working as a maid at the Camelot, alleged that on December 26 she had seen the Mesas and manager Vivian Rolon enter Sandy's room with a master key. The Mesas took snapshots of the room, Guerrero informed police, and carried away "the journal and other items." That incident is still under investigation.

Sandy didn't show up to testify at the December meeting of the NAB, which resulted in a second postponement. That didn't stop attorney Jonathan Schwartz from attacking the informant in absentia. "She is a pathological liar, a thief, she lives hand to mouth," he told the board. "She's a woman who will take advantage of anything. She spent the whole day in my office yesterday trying to get us to bribe her." He further labeled the CI "psychotic, schizophrenic, drug-crazed...a proven scumbag," and made a point of mentioning her full name several times, despite her confidential status.

Though she did appear as scheduled at the January 25 NAB hearing, Sandy never got a chance to testify. This was due in part to Schwartz's time-consuming questioning of police investigators, but also to Assistant City Attorney David Forestier's sudden announcement that a police lieutenant had overheard Vivian Rolon threaten the CI's life. The police witnesses and Sandy were immediately dismissed. At 12:30 a.m. the five-and-a-half-hour meeting was adjourned and the matter put off for one more month.

For Sandy, it wasn't a pleasant wait. In mid-January she had moved out of the Camelot and taken up residence in a small rental cottage farther north, just off Biscayne. Having fallen out of favor as a confidential informant, she says she was unable to find other work. Instead, she resorted to calling her supervisors in the Miami Police Department and demanding to be paid to give her testimony. When they refused, she threatened to not show up.

Then, on the evening of Sunday, February 19, three days before the rescheduled hearing, Sandy went out to walk her dogs. She hadn't thought to bring her jackknife, but it wouldn't have done her any good. As she later told Assistant City Attorney David Forestier, two men grabbed her from behind and dragged her behind the unlighted row of cottages where she lives. While one held her down, she said, the other used a small knife to carve shallow Xs on her cheeks and a deep slash on her left arm. After that they allegedly raped her and kicked her in the ribs. She recognized one of the assailants as a denizen of the boulevard. She would later tell NAB members that the men warned, "Don't show up Wednesday" and "This is what happens to snitches." (Sandy also made a statement to Metro-Dade police, but the alleged attack is still under investigation and the file has not been made available to the public.)

David Forestier introduced the assault into evidence at the meeting that Wednesday A as a way to stop Jonathan Schwartz from announcing the informant's real name in a public forum. When the ploy didn't work, Forestier vowed to pursue sanctions against the attorney for violating the privacy of a rape victim.

Hoping to put a stop to Schwartz's time-consuming litany of objections and questions, the board had prepared a list of guidelines for attorneys' conduct during hearings. (Schwartz has taken issue with the process, a civil procedure whose rules are more relaxed than those of criminal trials; among other things, hearsay testimony is allowed, as is the introduction of new evidence the other side hasn't yet had a chance to examine. "It's taking away people's property without due process," the Mesas' lawyer fumes.)

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