Hialeah Strip Club Says Ex-Mayor Set Up Raid Over Phony Human-Trafficking Claims | Miami New Times


Hialeah Strip Club Claims Ex-Mayor Set Up Televised Police Raid With No Warrant

The club owners say the raid was nothing more than political payback.
The Hialeah Police Department raids Bellas, formerly known as Porky's, on 14th Avenue.
The Hialeah Police Department raids Bellas, formerly known as Porky's, on 14th Avenue. Photo from exhibit listed in Bellas v. City of Hialeah
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It was a typical night at Bellas strip club in Hialeah — drinks flowing from the chic white bartop and customers ogling booties under the stage lights — when the Hialeah Police Department stormed into the property with a local TV reporter and cameraman in tow.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week, the club says more than a dozen officers "bedecked in tactical equipment, bulletproof vests, and a ski mask" swarmed through, startling dancers "who were in various stages of undress."

Despite a made-for-TV buildup and claims of human trafficking, no one bothered to obtain a warrant for the July 2019 raid, according to the lawsuit. Officers allegedly took it upon themselves to rifle through the premises while the America TeVe reporter offered a play-by-play in a tactical vest with the word "police" inscribed. No evidence of underage dancers or human trafficking was found, though several code violations were issued against the club by a small army of inspectors ushered in by the city.

During the raid, James Tundidor Jr., who was running the club, recognized one of the cops as a childhood pal whose father ran a karate studio on Palm Avenue near Hialeah city hall. He asked what was going on and why his club was being targeted.

"Sorry, man, this came from the big boss."

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"Sorry, man, this came from the big boss," the Hialeah officer told Tundidor Jr., according to the lawsuit.

The Tundidor family claims the "big boss" was none other than Hialeah's then-mayor, Carlos Hernandez, who "wielded the power of his office as a weapon against the Tundidors and their business."

From 2011 to 2021, Hernandez served as mayor of Hialeah, a city with a "strong mayor" system of government in which Hizzoner has direct control over multiple municipal departments. The Tundidors say Hernandez, a former cop with 20 years of law enforcement experience, was picky about who ran the city alongside him — and did not take kindly when a member of the family, Jesus Tundidor, mounted a bid for Hialeah city council against the mayor's wishes, according to the complaint.

"The Tundidors refused to be cowed by Mayor Hernandez's threats and continued to support their family member's run for a city council position. As a result, Mayor Hernandez made good on his threat and came down on the Tundidors and Bellas with the full might of the sixth largest municipality in Florida," the Tundidor family claims.

James Tundidor Sr., Tundidor Jr., and Dulce Tundidor, who operate Porky's Cabaret Inc., AKA Bellas, are demanding $5 million for alleged violations of their free speech and Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search. Jesus, one of Tundidor Sr.'s sons, is not a plaintiff in the case.

The lawsuit was filed just before the end of a four-year statute of limitations on constitutional claims.

Assistant Hialeah City Attorney Alexander Magrisso has not responded to New Times' request for comment via email. A separate text message sent by New Times seeking comment from former mayor Carlos Hernandez was not returned.

The allegations of municipal machinations are reminiscent of Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla's high-stakes lawsuit in which they claimed Miami commissioner Joe Carollo relentlessly targeted their restaurants and sicced code enforcement on them over a political vendetta. Fuller and Pinilla recently secured a $63 million verdict in the civil case against Carollo.

Bellas is on 14th Street, in east Hialeah, between a Home Depot and an hourly motel. It's located at the site of the old Porky's strip club — an establishment with a storied history of raids and colorful characters at its helm. Among its onetime managers was Ukrainian Ludwig Fainberg, who served prison time on drug and money-laundering conspiracy charges after the feds accused him of (among other things) scheming to supply the Cali Cartel with a Soviet submarine to transport cocaine.

After longtime Porky's landlord Bill Seidle, an auto dealership owner, died in 2008, his heirs sold the property to James Tundidor Sr. for $760,000, according to the Miami-Dade County records. The club distanced itself from its porky past around 2013, with the Tundidors rebranding the place and opting for a more delicate name: Bellas Cabaret.

While some of his kin kept the family's adult-entertainment business thriving, Jesus dove into politics. Once he graduated from Florida International University, he worked as a senior legislative aide for then-state senator Rene Garcia before returning home to his old stomping grounds, where he secured a spot on the City of Hialeah's planning-and-zoning board.

In 2017, Jesus asked then-mayor Hernandez for his blessing to run for the council seat, but Hernandez refused and told Jesus he should wait for the 2019 election cycle to run, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint says Jesus initially obliged but decided he'd had enough after Hernandez rebuffed him again in 2019. At the Hialeah Racetrack, the lawsuit claims, the mayor told Jesus to sit out another election, telling him, "I'll walk you in, in 2021." Jesus pressed on with his campaign despite Hernandez's alleged warning, "They will all be on my side because I have the muscle."

The muscle was flexed four months before the election, on July 25, 2019, when Hialeah cops raided Bellas Cabaret in the televised segment, according to the lawsuit.
Covering the operation from start to end, the America TeVe segment features Hialeah policeman Fernando Villa, who held the rank of commander at the time, in a room of officers preparing them for the raid, which he claimed was meant to bust "tráfico humano" (human trafficking). The segment shows footage inside of a patrol vehicle before the main event when the City of Hialeah flooded Bellas with police, code enforcement, fire department staff, and the city's chief building, electrical, and plumbing inspectors.

"Over a dozen officers entered the property, getting the immediate attention of the staff, patrons, and entertainers, who were in various stages of undress," the lawsuit recounts.

A picture of the raid shows a group of alarmed, lingerie-clad strippers with their hands in the air. Hialeah police K-9s were called in "to conduct a sniff search of Bellas," according to the court documents.
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Carlos Hernandez served as Hialeah's mayor from 2011 to 2021.
Photo by City of Hialeah

On camera, Commander Villa conceded that there were no underage dancers. After all was said and done, he noted police found a customer who was armed with a gun at the bar, in violation of Florida law, and that inspectors found multiple code violations. The segment ends with the chief electrical inspector triumphantly slapping a red-tag notice proclaiming the building was unsafe.

The city issued 14 fire code violations, including some related to smoke detectors and electrical breaker issues, while the building department hit the club with citations for a missing dumpster enclosure and work performed at the property without a permit. (The club says it had been operating with a city "hold" on its operating license since 2017 and periodically paid penalties before the raid.)

"Bellas was forced to remain closed until January 8, 2020, when it re-opened under strict conditions imposed by Hialeah," the complaint says. "Additionally, numerous articles were published by local newspapers highlighting the false accusations and referencing the human trafficking raid."

When reached by New Times, a Hialeah Police Department spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

As the 2019 campaign heated up, a super PAC linked to Hernandez put out robocalls and mailers that baselessly accused the Tundidors of profiting from "human trafficking," the lawsuit claims. One robocall allegedly said, "Attention Hialeah, did you all see in the news reports how the money from drugs and human trafficking are financing the campaign of Jesus Tundidor?"

Jesus prevailed in the November 2019 election over Luis Gonzalez, notwithstanding the alleged interference from the onetime mayor.

Bellas and the Tundidors say that apart from having their name dragged through the mud over a warrantless raid, they sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages associated with lost profits, fines, remediation efforts, and legal fees.

The family is represented by Miami attorney Peter Klock at the law firm of Bast Amron, who filed the case before U.S. District Judge Roy K. Altman.
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