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.

Once more, the ski-masked CI testified from behind the partition, recounting the procedure she and the detectives had followed for each undercover drug deal: Sitting in an unmarked police car, she is outfitted with a voice transmitter, searched, given ten dollars in city money, and sent off to make a buy. Afterward she walks back to the car, turns over the crack, is searched again, and gives a description of the person who sold her the drugs if the transaction wasn't videotaped or observed by a detective. Then she is given another ten dollars and makes another foray. The $35-per-buy fee she earns is paid later.

She told of how she turned down one dealer because the crack rocks he was trying to sell were too small, of a man named Cemetery who'd stopped her on the Metro's front doorstep to offer his wares, of a "very organized" crack dealer in Room 15 who packaged his five-dollar rocks in blue plastic bags and his ten-dollar rocks in green ones, and who had two prostitutes taking the drug orders.

Schwartz repeatedly brought up Sandy's criminal past, taking every opportunity to brand her a liar and claiming she participated in Operation Brothel solely in order to receive a reduction of what he calculated to be 70 years of prison time that she faced as a result of her 1994 grand-theft arrest. (At this David Forestier scoffed, "Cop killers don't get 35 years!") He alleged that her technique was to simply summon "her scumbag friends" wherever she wanted so she could simultaneously do her job and give her friends business with no risk of arrest. (Far from being her friends, Sandy retorted, the dealers "would have blasted me with little holes" had she told them she was working for the police.) Schwartz also questioned Lawrence Lewis, who for a time had lived next door to Sandy at the Metro; Lewis told the board Sandy had stolen from him and the Mesas and had tried to get him to sell her drugs, and that he'd seen her smoke marijuana and was told she smoked crack.

When Schwartz asked Sandy about her meetings with him and brought up the alleged bribery attempts, she wasn't permitted to answer because the matter was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. This led Schwartz to complain, "These ongoing investigations are just a ruse to keep her from answering questions!"

About three hours into the hearing, board member Carolyn Cope tried to cut things short by suggesting that the time had come to conclude testimony and think about taking a vote. "Personally, I've heard enough about the CI," agreed fellow board member Norman Powell.

But they would hear much more in the coming hours. At one point, after Schwartz had called Sandy by her real name, NAB chairman Robert Valledor yelled, "Mr. Schwartz, you get a warning, and then you get a red card!"

"A red card?" Schwartz asked, head lowered, barely concealing a grin. "What's a red card?"

"It's like international soccer rules," replied Valledor.
By the time Orlando Mesa took the podium at 12:30 a.m., Valledor was leaning back with his arm flung across the neighboring chair of board member Willard Hart, who had long since gone home. Norman Powell's eyes were closed. Mesa related his difficulties in selling the Camelot, the long hours he and his wife put in at their quilting business, and his expensive efforts to secure the motel and hire reliable help. "The first fifteen years I had no problem," he said. "I have been unlucky lately." Added his wife Manuela: "We are suffering too much. We haven't done anything wrong."

Camelot manager Vivian Rolon was Schwartz's last witness. Despite Forestier's reminder that she was the subject of a criminal investigation regarding the death threat she allegedly made against the informant, she clearly impressed the board with her no-nonsense assertions: No one who comes into the lobby gets past without her scrutiny; no guests after 11:00 p.m.; if there are any prostitutes in the motel, they do their business outside.

At 2:00 a.m. the board unanimously voted that the Camelot was indeed a public nuisance.

The police were asked whether any incidents had been reported at the location since the August drug buys. One officer said he'd found syringes outside the motel. Another said that the previous week he'd filed a report about prostitutes living on the Camelot's second floor and doing business there. A total of five nuisance reports had been made since August.

At 2:30 the NAB voted three to one to close down the motel for a month and required an updated "management plan" to be submitted in two weeks.

Jonathan Schwartz has filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of his clients, alleging that the board procedure was unconstitutional. This past Monday, Circuit Court Judge Judith L. Kreeger granted Schwartz's emergency motion to stay the closure order pending the resolution of the lawsuit. One of the reasons he's fighting the NAB, says Schwartz, is that each successful shutdown lessens the chances for survival of other motels in trouble, a belief echoed by police as well as motel owners. "They're trying to drive people out of business," Schwartz insists, adding that several boulevard motel owners are considering filing a class-action lawsuit seeking to abolish Miami's nuisance abatement ordinance.

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