Out, Damned Spa
Marc Siegel hired South Floridians to work in a Mexican resort, then stiffed them
By Jose Luis Jimenez
For $1000 per week Sherry Parker was willing to work during the holidays. The 43-year-old single mother wouldn't be able to spend New Year's Eve with her family. And she'd miss her daughter's ninth birthday. But the offer of a $2500 payday for working a couple of weeks at a spa in a five-star beach resort was too good to pass up.
So in late December 1998 she jetted to Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Caribbean coast. And after several weeks of giving facials, waxing, and applying makeup to upscale clients at the high-class spa in the Royal Hideaway Playacar, developer Marc Siegel issued Parker a paycheck.
But the check bounced, Parker says. Then Siegel closed his bank account. Three months of phone calls to the spa magnate brought more bad checks, excuses, and frustration. These days Parker is contemplating bankruptcy.
"I worked for that money. It's not like I went down there on vacation," says Parker, who resides in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Fort Lauderdale. "Like most people, I live week-to-week. I can't afford to go a whole month without a paycheck."
Parker is among twelve massage therapists and spa workers who contend their checks, ranging from $1000 to $4000, were no good. If history is any indication, they won't be paid anytime soon. Court records show Siegel has repeatedly been accused of writing bad checks and leaving both employees and suppliers in the lurch. In Miami-Dade County three creditors have sued Siegel for failing to pay since 1993. In 1995 authorities arrested him for writing a worthless check, then dropped charges.
Writing bad checks is part of Siegel's business plan, asserts Guy Ehring, president of Thalgo Cosmetic USA, Inc., and a former creditor of the spa developer. "When he needs some more products, he makes good on the previous bad checks and then writes another bad check for the new products. It's always someone else's fault, like someone forgot to transfer funds into his account."
Siegel agreed to meet with New Times, but later canceled the appointment. In a short telephone interview from his Coconut Grove office, he blamed Allegro Resorts, Inc., owners of the Royal Hideaway, for his problems paying Parker and the other spa workers. Siegel says Allegro owes him an unspecified amount of money for work in Playa del Carmen. As soon as he receives a check from Allegro, Siegel promises to pay the disgruntled ex-employees. "We hired them on behalf of our client [Allegro], which needed massage therapists," Siegel comments. He says he's negotiating for the funds.
Friends and associates describe the five-foot seven-inch, 41-year-old Siegel as charismatic and assertive. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, moved to Florida in 1982, and wed Anne Elizabeth Shandley in Dade County in 1988. He's been a prolific businessman, registering as owner or representative of 29 corporations in the state. He currently operates five of them, according to state records.
After arriving here, Siegel says he helped his father Norman run Tennis Tour, Inc., which capitalized on the Eighties fitness boom by creating exercise programs for hotels. The company expanded to spas in the early to mid-1990s. In 1994 Siegel leased space at the Eden Roc hotel on Miami Beach and opened the Spa at Eden Roc, which competed with a facility managed by his father at the neighboring Fontainebleau Hilton hotel.
Financial trouble arose prior to the Eden Roc spa's November 1994 opening. In 1993 Allison Dawn Olivieri accused Siegel of nonpayment for her nearly eight months of work as a spa manager in Acapulco. In March 1994 Olivieri won an $18,888.85 judgment against Siegel. Eight months later she settled for a $7750 payment from Eleanor Siegel. (The file does not identify Eleanor's relationship to Marc Siegel.)
In 1995 Marc Siegel bought the Palm Aire Spa in Pompano Beach; its wealthy and famous members included actress Elizabeth Taylor. Siegel closed the doors five months later, leaving 100 staff members without a final paycheck, according to press reports and Anne O'Connell, then-massage department supervisor. In addition some vendors said they weren't paid and 500 people lost their $1000-per-year spa memberships.
Court records show that matters continued to worsen.
In July 1995 Eden Roc's owner Lloyd Goldman took control of his hotel's spa. About the same time James Calella, owner of Road Runner Press, Inc., complained to police about Siegel. He claimed the spa owner had given him a worthless $2500 check. Siegel was arrested in June 1995. The State Attorney's Office (SAO) dropped the charges in August. The reason: Siegel put a stop payment on the check, which means he did not commit a crime.
In October 1995 Dutchman Barber and Beauty Supply sued Siegel for writing a bad check to pay for $10,000 in spa equipment. The Eden Roc later paid Calella, Dutchman, and other vendors. "He's burned a lot of bridges. I would not sell a thing to him," comments Todd Boring, a Miami beauty-products supplier. Siegel wrote an $8000 bad check to Boring, the supplier claims. The Eden Roc later paid him off.
Siegel's financial trouble hit home in 1996, when he was evicted from his $2175-per-month Miami Beach condo for failing to pay rent.
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.
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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.