In Miami's restaurant industry, Eddie Santana is infamous. A handsome waiter with a love for litigation, Santana slapped 30 local restaurants with lawsuits in less than a decade. Some suits were serious. Others seemed frivolous. Either way, they netted him nearly $150,000 in settlements.
When New Times exposed his lawsuit spree back in 2011, however, Santana moved his litigious life across the state to Naples. But now at least one Collier County judge says he's caught on to Santana's scams and has called for a criminal investigation.
"It's apparent to the court that he's earning considerable sums of money from filing lawsuits," said judge Mike Carr at a Friday hearing. "It's further clear by overwhelming evidence that he has been fraudulently taking money from the taxpayers in each and every case by filing as an indigent, knowing full well that he's been receiving large sums of money from lawsuits."
Update: According to court records, Carr's complaint was referred to the State Attorney's Office on September 6, 2013. However, SAO spokeswoman Samantha Syoen said that as of October 3, 2014 there was no investigation into Santana, nor has he been charged.
When New Times first met up with Santana in early 2011, the waiter fashioned himself as the lone defender of workers' rights in a city with rampant labor law violations:
To fellow waiters, Eddie is an unlikely if not unlikable hero who calls out Miami restaurants on the hundreds of ways they steal from employees. He terms himself a "revolutionary." But to... restaurant owners in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, he's a scam artist who does nothing but sue his employers.
The truth is that in the past nine years, Eddie has filed 30 lawsuits against companies -- nearly all restaurants and bars -- for everything from illegal tip pools to excessive uniform costs. He's netted $144,924.79 after attorney fees from 20 separate settlements. And from the nine suits still pending, he hopes to make another $100,000, if not more. The guy even sued his own brother.
It was clear even then that Santana was addicted to suing people. But he still held out hope of going straight.
"If Eddie settles even half of the nine lawsuits he has pending, he will make $100,000 this year without serving a single meal," the New Times profile concluded. "He says he'll use the money to quit the game: move away from Miami, maybe even start his own restaurant. Then he'd never have to sue anyone ever again."
Instead, a Sunday article by the Naples Daily News shows that Santana simply switched locations for his lawsuits. Since moving to Naples in 2012, Santana has sued at least 12 local restaurants and hotels.
Just a few of the books that Eddie Santana relies on when filing his lawsuits
As in Miami, a key part of Santana's Collier County suits is his contention that he is indigent and unable to pay court costs.
However, judge Mike Carr is now turning that claim against Santana. Not only did he dismiss two of Santana's cases after learning of his legal history, but he also called for a criminal investigation into whether the waiter lied in court by hiding his earnings from past lawsuits.
"He, in essence, has been making a living on these lawsuits and has had the arrogance to file complaints and have the taxpayers pay for the complaints," Carr said on Friday. "You cannot take advantage of the taxpayers and the citizens of this county and this state by falsely claiming indigent status."
The Collier County Sheriff's Office is currently considering whether or not to pursue the case.
"I'm not worried about it," Santana told the Daily News.
One thing that is clear, however, is that Santana has had trouble shaking the New Times exposé that first revealed his love for lawsuits.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"He thought the paper was going to do him good," Santana's wife, Dawn Blum, told the Naples newspaper. "But they f---ed him instead."