The Bad Karma Motel
Life has been more complicated than usual lately for Miami Police Department Confidential Informant Number Eleven, ever since her identity became known to just about all of Biscayne Boulevard. She doesn't own a gun or any other deadly weapon, so when she goes out she stashes the next best thing in an inside pocket of her blue nylon vest: a jackknife with a dull two-inch blade. Nothing that would make a drug dealer think twice about doing whatever he thought she deserved. But CI Number Eleven doesn't go out on the boulevard much any more. Work has dried up.
"Get yer police ass outta here!" yells a prostitute standing unsteadily outside a market on Biscayne and 74th Street. A sliver of moon shows in the just-darkened Saturday sky, and the storefront and people and sidewalk all blend together in the moments before the night turns black and the boulevard lights begin to buzz. Sandy, the informant, exits the store toting a quart bottle of The Bull in a paper sack. She gets her police ass off that corner and keeps moving south, until she gets to 71st Street, where she stops to chat with the manager of the Camelot Inn.
Sandy is unwelcome at the Camelot, and even while letting her guest in the front door, the manager is calling the owners on a cellular phone. Ten minutes later, Orlando and Manuela Mesa drive up and tell Sandy to get her police ass out of there. This is where Sandy's cover was blown after she made seven undercover drug buys during a two-day period last summer, transactions documented by City of Miami police. In late February the city's Nuisance Abatement Board ordered the Mesas to pay a $250 fine, to close the Camelot for a 30-day period beginning this week, and to reimburse the city for its investigative expenses, the exact costs of which have not yet been computed but which are said by city attorneys to exceed $7000. The order has been appealed in state court.
Biscayne Boulevard is both a dividing line and a meeting point for extremes of society. Bankers and businessmen, longtime Miamians and newly arrived tourists can't help but come face to face with pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers. Once a palm-lined entryway to downtown that abounded with modern motor lodges and clean restaurants, the boulevard has been ravaged by years of neglect, its travel-brochure good looks supplanted by seediness and boarded-up buildings.
Those motels still in operation have long since shuttered their restaurants and most now protect their wary desk clerks in cages fortified with bulletproof glass. Tourists aren't the staple clients any more. Caribbean business travelers and cruise ship employees still book rooms at some of the establishments, and social-service agencies contract with others to shelter homeless clients, AIDS patients, and the handicapped and mentally ill. But there are also the omnipresent outlaws, who always manage to set up shop for days at a time in one motel or another, moving from place to place as police scrutiny dictates.
Residents who live along the increasingly gentrified, tree-shaded streets to the east of Biscayne, in the area known as Miami's Upper Eastside, tell of open drug dealing, brazen hookers baring their private parts and propositioning preteens, assaults by youth gangs, and robberies. All agree the incidents are far less common now than they were five years ago A "Back in the Eighties, you could be stopped at a light with your wife sitting next to you in the car and a prostitute would come up to your window and quote a price," one local businessman recalls A but they remain an affront. Local property owners got so sick of the climate of crime that they took the lead in creating the City of Miami's Nuisance Abatement Board (NAB), whose members are appointed by the city commission and convene monthly. Leaving the pursuit of the perpetrators to the police, the quasi-judicial board has the power to punish businesses that cater, either actively or passively, to vice merchants. If deemed a public nuisance by the board, any business within the city limits can be fined or temporarily shut down for up to a year, or both. Since its formation in late 1991, the five-member board has sanctioned more than 50 properties throughout the city. Perhaps its most celebrated case was the crime-infested DuBari Apartments in Allapattah, which were closed in 1993 amid public controversy and recently have been renovated and reopened. To date, eight Biscayne Boulevard motels have been penalized for allowing drug sales and/or prostitution on their premises. Two have been cited two different times: the Seven Seas and the Camelot, which was disciplined in 1992 while under different ownership.
Upper Eastside residents have persistently badgered police, politicians, and the Dade State Attorney's Office to pay more attention to the area, and they consider the NAB an important weapon in their war against neighborhood degradation. But others contend the board is a sword that cuts too close to the rights of legitimate business operators who stand to lose many thousands of dollars as a result of illegal acts they didn't personally commit.
Though several lawsuits have sought to overturn the NAB's actions and its legal authority, none has been successful. Then came the Camelot case, a messy ordeal unlike anything the board had handled before. Some in the community are convinced the NAB's management of the matter has blunted its effectiveness, and perhaps rendered it impotent. Regardless, as the old war over Biscayne Boulevard continues to rage, no one believes that last month's ruling will be the last word on what board chairman Robert L. Valledor calls the "bad karma motel."
Most people still refer to the Camelot by the name it bore for the past decade, the Metro Motel. Before that it was called the Miamian. Since October 31, 1974 A Halloween A interrupted only by two brief changes of ownership, the three-story Art Deco building at 7126 Biscayne Blvd. has been the property of Orlando and Manuela Mesa, Cuban immigrants now in their seventies. These days the Camelot, a boxy structure painted in shades of terra cotta with purple trim, has a large For Sale sign in a front window. The Mesas, who also own several rental properties, as well as the Miami Quilting Center in the Design District, are asking $300,000 for the property, but they say they've had only one inquiry by phone. Though saturated with the grime that seeps into old buildings, the Thirties-era motel's twenty tattered rooms are brightened somewhat by the stained-glass hues of bedspreads sewn at the Quilting Center.
They've sold the place twice, but the Mesas have never quite managed to get rid of it; when the buyers defaulted, they retook possession because they held the mortgage. In the fall of 1992, when the motel was owned by a man named Charles Dagher, the Metro was shut down for eight months by the NAB, which cited it as a location for drug sales and prostitution. (According to the attorney who handled the subsequent foreclosure, Dagher left the country with several hundred thousand dollars in insurance money he'd collected to refurbish the structure after Hurricane Andrew.)
Manuela Mesa wanted to rename the motel because she and her husband both loved the romance and beauty associated with the mythical kingdom of Camelot. "My wife, she is always inventing Camelots," says Orlando Mesa, a thin man with a snow-white pompadour and parchment skin that covers a craggy countenance. "That's her dream, to change the face of the motel."
This past November, just before the rechristening, the Mesas received a letter from the NAB advising them that during a summertime undercover investigation, police had documented seven drug buys in the motel's back parking lot and in two rooms. Evidence of the illicit activity was scheduled to be reviewed by the board at its November 22, 1994, hearing, after which members would vote on whether to deem the motel a public nuisance and penalize the owners accordingly. Three other boulevard motels, the Seven Seas, the Shalimar, and the Economy Inn, received similar letters.
The Mesas admit their motel hosted some unsavory guests last summer. Neighbors, including the proprietor of the King Motel next door, had complained regularly that the Mesas' place was a magnet for trouble. A phone booth outside the front door was a hangout of sorts until an altercation resulted in a shooting one night and Orlando Mesa had the phone moved into the lobby. He also fenced in his parking lot and installed security cameras. In late September he fired his manager, who, he had discovered, had been getting a piece of the action on the third floor, the preferred address of dealers and prostitutes.
"When [that manager] was here, I knew something was wrong," Mesa recalls in his lilting, Spanish-accented voice. "He used to use a phrase I'll never forget: 'This [motel] is a church.' But we knew something was cooking behind it. One night my wife parked across the street and we see prostitutes walking in and out. So we tell them to leave. Two days later, the same thing; we throw out two more. So I tell him, 'I left your church without parishioners.'" After that Mesa asked one of the motel's residents, a woman named Sandy who lived in Room 12 with a half-dozen cats and two dogs, to take over as manager in exchange for the $140-per-week rent.
The owner and his new manager made an effort to report problems to the police. They met with neighborhood homeowners, who were happy to see the changes Mesa made but remained convinced the improvements weren't enough to keep undesirables away permanently. As boulevard business operators are encouraged to do, the Mesas also consulted with the department's neighborhood resource officers (NROs), who work out of the Upper Eastside Neighborhood Enhancement Team office at Biscayne and 66th Street. The Mesas' relationship was so good with one of those cops, Darrell Nichols, that in October they took on the officer and his family as tenants, leasing them a house in the area.
When the Mesas learned their motel would come under the NAB's scrutiny, they were indignant, believing past problems had been resolved. Officer Nichols, too, felt the Mesas should be given credit for the improvements they had made, and he lobbied for leniency with local residents and with David Forestier, the assistant city attorney who argues cases in front of the NAB. Aware of Nichols's off-duty connection to the Mesas, however, community leaders were uneasy and at least one person complained to Nichols's superiors.
No one told Forestier, though. When he finally found out shortly before the November 22 hearing, he was incensed and later filed a complaint with the police department's Internal Affairs division. Conflict-of-interest allegations against Nichols, the subject of a January 19 New Times story titled, "The Really Good Neighbor Policy," are still under investigation.
Probes into alleged misconduct by others involved with the Metro/Camelot case were to come in the weeks that followed.
Police say confidential informants come in all types and have different motives. Generally they're people who have been convicted of crimes who want to reduce their prison sentences; occasionally they are law-abiding citizens who want to help fight crime. Some, such as those who work for the Drug Enforcement Administration or U.S. Customs, are paid thousands of dollars. Others work for free.
CI Number Eleven says she doesn't work for nothing, and that she considers the activity a part-time job. Like many CIs, she has developed a specialty. Hers is undercover drug buys. And although she has a lengthy criminal record that includes two prison stints, Sandy says she never took on a case in order to get a softer sentence or otherwise mitigate a legal penalty.
She says she's been an informant for 22 years, for five law enforcement agencies, a claim not disputed by some of the police detectives with whom she has worked. None would agree to be quoted by name for this article. (Formally, no law enforcement agency will confirm or deny the existence of an informant.) But when her identity became known to the Biscayne dealers and she began speaking about her work to her friends and the press, her police associates became uncomfortable.
"It's real touchy," cautions one detective, who isn't a member of the City of Miami force. He says he has warned Sandy about the hazards of being too open about her law enforcement connections. "I really am upset she's even talked to you," he adds. "As far as I'm concerned, we're not going to use her any more. It's her life she's putting in danger. I can't understand what her motives are.
She's good at what she does. So it surprised me. Right now I guarantee no one will work with her."
The detective acknowledges a long association with Sandy A and a genuine affection for her. "You get close to them sometimes," he says. "But never in the sense of going over to their side. I can't believe anything she says; that's the way you have to treat them." According to the detective, Sandy doesn't take drugs or have a serious drinking problem: "She's a very bright girl, but she just can't get her life straightened out."
Sandy's background is solidly middle-class Miami. Her father and mother, well-educated residents of Havana who fell in love with the U.S. during a vacation in the late Forties, immigrated here in 1950. Born in 1954, Sandy was the third of their four children who grew up in a tree-shaded house on a canal in North Miami. All four attended private Catholic schools. Sandy wanted to be a lawyer, but by the time she earned her bachelor's degree in criminal science at Florida International University in 1980, she'd already been arrested for shoplifting. Since then, there have been thousands of dollars' worth of bad checks and thefts, and the two stretches spent in prison.
At age 40, Sandy has short, graying hair, prominent features, and large dark eyes with heavy lids that sometimes make her look sleepy or dull. Her rhythmic, singsong speech veers in and out of street talk. "I just let people think I'm dimwitted," she confides with a lopsided shrug. She says her life of crime began after her husband's accidental death in 1979, and was spurred by her rape the following year. "I went ballistic. I just didn't care. I would go out and buy things with forged checks. I would buy people VCRs," she says, adding that she never told her family about the sexual assault.
Even before that, and before she began her criminal-justice studies, Sandy was a police informant. She says the first time was in the mid-Seventies, when a man offered to sell her a gun from a large stash in the trunk of his car. She told him to come back the next day, then called North Miami police. They set up a trap but the man never returned. Undeterred, Sandy continued to be alert for other crimes she could assist with, and as she racked up her own felony convictions and robbed herself of the opportunity to become an attorney in Florida, she continued to expand her law enforcement contacts. "I kept saying to myself, 'Damn, there's a gold mine out there,'" she recalls with a thin-lipped grin. She first worked with Miami police two years ago, she says, when she called to tell them she'd found "a really nice crack house." ("As a CI, that's how you market yourself," she explains.)
While she was making the drug buys last summer, Sandy was living in a room at the Seven Seas. Management kicked her out at the end of August, not because she was a confidential informant, but because of her four cats. She promptly moved fifteen blocks north to the Metro. "That's where everything was going on," she explains. "It was a CI's dream. I could find out anything I wanted to know about the street in that motel."
And almost before she knew it, the Mesas had hired her as the hotel's manager. Unbeknownst to them, the person they appointed to shoo away the lowlifes and raise their establishment in the cops' esteem was none other than Confidential Informant Number Eleven, who had spent the summer helping the police build a case against them.
Several people, including current Camelot manager Vivian Rolon and former motel resident Lawrence Lewis, allege that Sandy was far from an ideal manager. They accuse her of renting to drug dealers, procuring prostitutes, and stealing, allegations Sandy denies. She does say the job was too taxing for her tastes, what with guests continually banging on her door asking for towels and toilet paper and police officers with warrants coming around looking for prostitutes. She quit after three weeks but stayed on at the motel.
The November 22 NAB meeting, which aired as usual on live cable TV, marked the first time a confidential informant testified before the board. Seated behind a fabric-covered partition, sweating in a black ski mask and a long black vinyl coat with "Miami Police" printed on the back, CI Number Eleven recounted her fourteen drug buys at the Seven Seas and Shalimar motels. To help refresh her memory, she referred to the police reports of each incident. In state court only a week earlier, she had pleaded no contest to seven felony counts of grand theft in an unrelated matter. For that she had received two years' probation, six months' community control, and was ordered to pay restitution.
Now, at the NAB hearing, police investigators testified that the Seven Seas, the Shalimar, the Economy Inn, and the soon-to-be-renamed Metro had been targeted in response to citizens' complaints and police observations. In mid-1994 the police department's Special Investigations Section (SIS) had launched Operation Brothel, an undercover operation to identify Biscayne Boulevard motels where drug dealing and/or prostitution were prevalent. In part, the project was undertaken to appease disgruntled Upper Eastside residents who had complained about a two-year gap since a case involving a Biscayne Boulevard business had been brought before the NAB.
In previous nuisance cases, the police had used informants, including CI Number Eleven, to buy drugs at motels. But Operation Brothel was different, in that it almost totally relied on the work and subsequent testimony of a CI. Of the 29 drug transactions documented during the operation at the four motels, only one was made by an undercover officer. Furthermore, none of the sellers had been arrested; according to police, this was a common-sense measure intended to protect the CI's identity and allow her to continue working.
The results of the November 22 hearing seemed an endorsement of the operation. James Angleton, owner of the Economy Inn, presented a list of improvements in security and management that he had either completed or was working on. Because it was the motel's first appearance before the board, the Economy Inn was placed on six months' probation but allowed to stay open.
Seven Seas proprietor Thomas Lin submitted a long letter apologizing for the problems at his motel. He pledged to fire the night manager, to move in and run the place himself, and to make improvements in security. But the Seven Seas and Lin had already been put on probation once (in 1992), and this time the NAB voted to close down the motel for six months and levy a $500 fine plus $2500 to offset investigative costs.
The owner of the Shalimar, Paul Yang, admitted he knew prostitutes frequented his motel but said he felt sorry for them and had been trying to help them. The board shut down his motel for nine months, levying a $250 fine plus $2500 in investigative costs.
At the request of the Mesas' newly retained lawyer, their case was postponed until the NAB's next meeting, December 28.
The following morning, CI Number Eleven boarded a flight to Tennessee for a Thanksgiving family reunion. According to the city's expense records, her plane ticket was paid for by the City of Miami Police Department because she'd had to remain in Miami to testify at the hearing instead of traveling north by bus.
Orlando and Manuela Mesa discovered the confidential informant's identity in December, when they were shown police videotapes of the buys Sandy had made in their parking lot. Instead of throwing her out, however, they invited her to stay. Their lawyer even offered to write up an unspecified "employment contract" for her.
"She walked into the office and said, 'I'm the CI, I'd like to help you out because I think [the Mesas] are getting a raw deal,'" recalls attorney Jonathan Schwartz, a former assistant public defender in Dade. "I'm thinking to myself, what better way to deal with the enemy than to make friends with the enemy?"
Schwartz and the informant are in agreement about some of what subsequently transpired between them: Sandy admits she told the lawyer that she hoped the NAB would be lenient on the Mesas; like her own parents, they had emigrated from Cuba and worked hard to make it in the U.S. She also confirms that some sort of employment contract was discussed.
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.)
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.
The decision about the Camelot doesn't sit well with community activists, either, including Ernestine Stevens, who was instrumental in pushing for the creation of the NAB in 1991. "This decision destroys the credibility of the board. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I would encourage Mr. Lin to sue the hell out of the city for what appears to be preferential treatment by the board," she seethes, asserting that the proprietor of the Seven Seas was treated unfairly by comparison. Next Wednesday, March 22, Thomas Lin will petition the board to allow him to reopen early, on the grounds that he has gone to great lengths to fence in, light, and beautify his premises. "I am borrowing money to maintain my mortgage [of] around $8000 a month," Lin says. "If we do not get the early reopening, I have to go bankrupt."
The Shalimar has been sold twice since its closure. According to more than one innkeeper on the boulevard, previous owner Paul Yang has left the country, and now no one is sure what will become of the once-pretty Shalimar, its pink paint faded and its parking lot deserted.
When CI Number Eleven learned of the board's ruling on the Camelot, she was entertaining fantasies about taking a baseball bat, finding her assailants, and cracking their skulls. Now halfway through her six months of community control for the grand theft charges, she also talks about moving to North Carolina to start fresh, about resuming her studies in criminal justice and earning a master's degree. But at home in her cluttered cottage, a worn paperback copy of Helter Skelter beside her pillow and a can of Keystone beer close by in a paper bag, Sandy is somewhat less optimistic. "I ain't nothing," she says. "I'm just a snitch. Who's gonna listen to me?"
Since the decision, NAB members have expressed doubts about the validity of using Sandy's buys as evidence, despite the fact that they had no trouble voting to close the Shalimar and the Seven Seas back in November. Until Jonathan Schwartz came along, they point out, no one had raised questions about the process. Might Sandy have set up the buys with her friends as he alleged? If the drugs and prostitution were as rampant at the Metro as she testified, why hadn't there been more arrests? And what were they to make of the talk about bribery and threats, which, owing to ongoing investigations, had been forbidden topics of discussion?
"I still have other questions. I still don't know," admits Robert Valledor, who voted against the closure because he felt he didn't have enough solid information. "I wasn't happy with the decision."
Board member Norman Powell cast his vote in favor of the month-long shutdown. "The way the board is set up, it's really difficult to deal with a hearing of that nature," says Powell, an attorney. "This was the worst case ever."
As an afterthought, he mentions his lunch at a Chinese restaurant the day before the hearing. The paper slip inside his fortune cookie read: "A liar is not believed even though he tells the truth.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.