Powerful Family of Miami Judge Owns Illegal Frat-House Ring Near UM, Neighbors SayEXPAND
Courtesy of Jessica Cruz

Powerful Family of Miami Judge Owns Illegal Frat-House Ring Near UM, Neighbors Say

This past November 11, 65,000 delirious fans packed Hard Rock Stadium for the University of Miami's biggest home game in years against the hated Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Bars swelled with orange-and-green-clad crowds, and closer to UM's campus, raucous house parties erupted. One of the largest bacchanals took place at a residential home in the nearby neighborhood of Glenvar Heights, where revelers arrived by the busload.

Neighbors such as Jessica Cruz were used to the noise. In fact, Cruz says the ten-bedroom, ten-bathroom home is an illegal party house for UM frat brothers. The day of the Notre Dame game, the frat even rented out yellow school buses to shuttle in all the drinkers.

Despite repeated calls to police and code enforcement, Cruz says the kids have gotten away with it because a powerful Miami family, the Del Reys, owns the home. Her attorneys say the clan actually runs a string of at least four similar homes for hard-partying UM kids throughout the residential neighborhood.

The predicament is virtually identical to the plot of the 2014 Seth Rogen comedy Neighbors , in which a beer-guzzling frat bro played by Zac Efron moves in next door to Rogen's character and his wife, who recently had a baby. But this story is real and decidedly less fun for area residents, who've hired a lawyer and sent formal complaints to county code enforcement and Commissioner Xavier Suarez's office. Miami-Dade County Police have also been called regularly to the biggest nuisance home, at 5500 SW 67 Ave.

"If I wanted to live among a bunch of frat boys, I’ll go ask UM if I can rent a room," Cruz, who lives two blocks from the home, tells New Times. "It just becomes unsafe.”

A group of concerned neighbors circulated petitions demanding the county crack down on the homes. Copies provided to New Times show that 50 people have signed so far.

Powerful Family of Miami Judge Owns Illegal Frat-House Ring Near UM, Neighbors Say
Courtesy of Jessica Cruz

The Del Rey family — led by brothers Julio and Jorge — are infamous in Miami-Dade real-estate circles. They gained much of their fortune by running Executive Fantasy Hotels, a string of sex-themed motels in Miami and Puerto Rico. Their best-known property, near Miami International Airport, offers dimly lit rooms where partners can make love in a variety of settings, including a Middle Eastern-style getaway and a room filled with fake trees.

A third brother, Cesar Del Rey, owns Hotel Presidente in Hialeah, better known as the location where five teenagers died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2010.

The family is also deeply connected to Miami-area politics: Another member of the Del Rey clan, Marcia, was elected to a Miami-Dade judgeship in 2016. Previously reported financial disclosures show Marcia owns her own adult-themed Shangri-la, the Executive Tropic Garden Hotel in Little Havana. She was also heavily criticized for falsely claiming to have once been a prosecutor: She was actually fired before being sworn in as an assistant state attorney after failing to show up for work in 2005. Anti-sex-trafficking advocate Sandy Skelaney claims the types of hotel chains owned by the Del Reys are “hotbeds for sex trafficking and the sex trafficking of children.” (In 2011, Julio Del Rey told New Times the family's hotels were “adult-themed, obviously.”)

Neither Julio nor Marcia returned New Times' phone calls requesting comment for this story. But Cruz, the neighbor, says the family's property in her neighborhood is far too large for the residential block and violates city code by renting to college kids. Cruz provided photos of the homes, which show young-looking students milling about in the street.

Powerful Family of Miami Judge Owns Illegal Frat-House Ring Near UM, Neighbors SayEXPAND
Courtesy of Jessica Cruz

In a letter Cruz's lawyer sent to Commissioner Suarez's office in August, the neighbors list four of the Del Reys' properties as nuisance homes. They include two of Julio's houses: One, at 5500 SW 67th St. (officially listed as a six-bedroom, six-bathroom), which he bought for $315,000 in a foreclosure auction, and a $172,000, seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom at 6521 SW 33rd St. Jorge owns a five-bedroom, three-bathroom on SW 52nd Street and a five-bedroom, four-bathroom property on the same block

(In fact, the family owns three other vacant properties nearby. Julio, Jorge, and Julio Del Rey Jr. all own lots in the neighborhood.)

Cruz and her neighbors have partnered with lawyer Amanda Quirke Hand, who works with Lehtinen Schultz, the law firm founded by former state senator Dexter Lehtinen, the husband of longtime Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Cruz says she and her lawyer have sat down with the Del Reys to discuss the slew of homes. But she says nothing seems to change and questions whether the county's inability to sanction the properties has something to do with the Del Reys' status across South Florida.

"Please accept this formal complaint and request for assistance on behalf of our client, Jessica Cruz, and approximately 50 homeowners regarding the illegal use of single-family residences in Glenvar Heights," Hand writes in the letter. "At least four single-family homes in the neighborhood are built and used as student dormitories, which is negatively impacting property values and, more importantly, the quality of life in this cherished single-family neighborhood."

The complaint continues:

As an example, for several months now, several neighbors have observed activity at 5500 SW 67 Avenue, Miami, FL 33155 that is indicative of illegal dormitory use. One an given day, there are an average of 10 vehicles parked at the residence, most with out-of-state license plates. In addition, the neighborhood has experienced an increased amount of trash on the block. These student renters are constantly hosting wild parties and are often seen walking in and out of the home with "red cups" in their hands. Neighbors have also complained about speeding and reckless driving being committed by these student renters and their guests.

These properties are owned and operated by the same family, who have no regard for the neighborhood, a neighborhood cherished by its residents and revered and sought after by others.

Reached by phone, Commissioner Suarez said he didn't know who the Del Reys were and wasn't aware of the complaint. He said a staffer in his office is likely handling the matter.

Despite the fact that the neighborhood is zoned for single-family homes, some of the Del Reys' properties contain as many as ten bedrooms and bathrooms. Cruz says the Del Reys are renting the ten-bed/ten-bath home on SW 67th Avenue to at least some members of UM's Pi Kappa Phi chapter. Cruz also provided photos that show Miami-Dade Police responding to the house at 1 a.m. earlier this year.

Powerful Family of Miami Judge Owns Illegal Frat-House Ring Near UM, Neighbors Say
Courtesy of Jessica Cruz

According to county property records, the home is zoned "RU-1" — a designation reserved for single families. Renting a home to multiple students would be prohibited under county rules. The homes are owned through a series of thinly veiled LLCs — at the SW 67th Street house, for example, Julio Del Rey is listed as the home's "registered agent" in state records.

Cruz also says she and neighbors have been intimidated for trying to investigate who lives at the home. After one neighbor took some photos of college kids walking around one of the homes, Cruz says four students threatened him.

"The owner is well connected in the county," the students said, according to Cruz. The neighbors say the students warned Glenvar Heights residents not to take any more photos of them.

For now, the residents hope code enforcement cracks down on the homes and the family. Cruz says the Del Reys plan to build an eight-bedroom, 11-bathroom property — she hopes someone with the county intervenes before construction begins.

“These are college kids. They're living it up, being young, but they have no regard for their surroundings,” Cruz says. “There's trash everywhere, they're speeding through the streets, there's all the intoxication."

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