Out, Damned Spa

Marc Siegel hired South Floridians to work in a Mexican resort, then stiffed them

In 1997 Siegel incorporated VIASPA, which he describes as a "spa development, design, training, and corporate supervision company focusing on the Caribbean." After landing the account to develop the Royal Hideaway spa, construction lagged, according to a December 28, 1998, memo written by Siegel. To appease the hotel brass, Siegel agreed to bring in massage therapists and other workers from Miami. He began visiting Miami massage schools, seeking temporary employees.

"The center's completion is unfortunately delayed until January 30, 1999. Therefore we are currently providing massage, facial, and nail-care services in various venues on the property," Siegel wrote in a memo, which was sent to the Florida College of Natural Health and Educating Hands in Miami. "I am in IMMEDIATE need of massage therapists who will be compensated $1000 per week in addition to room, board, and transportation to provide services on the property."

The hotel's first guests were Allegro executives, who flew in from all over the world, says Brooks Adams, a massage therapist who worked in Mexico for Siegel. Adams left behind a job earning $500 per week to work at the resort. He was tempted by the higher wage and exotic locale.

From the start the operation was unconventional. Facials were given in a hotel suite. Masseurs and masseuses worked on the white sandy beach. "I always had this dream of setting up a massage table in Mexico on the beach and doing good business," the 41-year-old Adams offers. He says he started work at 8:30 a.m. and performed up to 27 massages per day. He was prohibited from accepting gratuities.

The group ministered to a gathering of travel agents before returning to Miami on January 17.

Trouble started when they tried to cash their paychecks. Some were written on a closed account, Parker and Adams say. Other checks came back marked "insufficient funds." The spa developer halved the pay of several employees including Adams. He claims they voided their contracts by using hotel amenities. "Some of them left phone bills and other things that I would consider a breach," he adds.

Hotel owners are investigating the incident, Allegro's attorney Noemi Aguirre says. (The company has since terminated its contract with Siegel.) The hotel appears to be blameless, according to contracts supplied by two therapists, Mahamoud Khan and Marisa Gallardo. It is cited solely as the location for the work. Only the therapists and Siegel signed the contracts.

Parker and massage therapist Angel Cobo filed complaints with the SAO this past month, spokesman Don Ungurait says. Those claims are under investigation.

Meanwhile Parker continues to struggle to support her sixteen-year-old son and her daughter. Her ex-husband failed to pay child support for six years, she says. (He recently started paying.) "Unless [Siegel] is stopped, he will continue to do this and take advantage of other people," she comments.

Published:Owing to reporting errors, three facts were misstated in Jose Luis Jimenez's article "Out, Damned Spa" (April 15). Spa developer Marc Siegel was not arrested in June 1995. Prosecutors did charge him with intentionally writing a bad check, but later decided not to pursue the case. Also Siegel did not personally visit area massage schools as reported. Instead he sent recruitment letters to several of those schools. Finally spa worker Sherry Parker has two daughters, not a daughter and a son as stated in the article. New Times regrets the errors.

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