Ari Pregen picked the wrong strip club to throw his weight around. On January 26, the Miami-Dade assistant state attorney gained free admission for himself and two pals into downtown Miami's Goldrush by flashing his work badge at the club's executive manager, Jeff Levy. A few hours later, Pregen again whipped out his law enforcement credentials so he wouldn't have to pay a 15 percent credit card surcharge on lap dances he purchased.
Seven days later, Pregen pulled the same stunt, according to a complaint Levy filed with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. When his bosses confronted him about his douchey behavior, Pregen twice denied abusing his badge despite video evidence to the contrary. Naturally, the rookie prosecutor (hired in May 2012) was canned from his $40,000-a-year job February 8.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office typically doesn't comment on personnel matters, but documents obtained by Riptide show that Pregen's supervisors acted swiftly to resolve the embarrassing incident. Levy didn't want to comment either. "I consider the matter closed and resolved," he said.
Pregen could not be reached for comment. If we do hear back, we will update this post. Pregen is the assistant state attorney who failed miserably in his prosecution of Miami photographer and blogger Carlos Miller last year.
Miller had been charged with a criminal misdemeanor of resisting arrest because he allegedly disobeyed a Miami-Dade police officer's command to vacate the area when law enforcement officials cleared out the Occupy Miami camp at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center. A jury found Miller not guilty.
In a blog post he wrote about the verdict, Miller described Pregen as "a frattish-looking prosecutor fresh out of law school" who tried to explain to jurors that "a real journalist was supposed to follow police orders without a second thought."
According to a February 4 letter Levy originally sent to Attorney General Pam Bondi, here's what happened:
Pregen got belligerent with Goldrush's front door bouncers, demanding he and his crew be allowed into the club without paying the cover charge. Security called Levy, who came to the front door. He explained to Pregen that he only allowed military with a valid ID to enter the strip joint for free. "Mr. Pregen was more persistent and told me that he had not paid for admission fees for years," Levy recollected. "Mr. Pregen reached for his wallet and flashed his State Attorney's badge at me."
To avoid making a scene, Levy said he let the trio in without charging them "against [his] better judgment."
Around 1 in the morning, Pregen lost his cool when he used his credit card to pay for lap dances. He was annoyed that Goldrush -- like all strip clubs -- wanted to collect a 15 percent surcharge for swiping his plastic. Anyone familiar with strip-club etiquette understands that obtaining bands for lap dances usually comes with a vig (or vigorish). That's why patrons in the know stop at an ATM before they step through the front door.
Clearly, Pregen didn't get the memo. Levy alleges Pregen tried to intimidate the female employee who ran his credit card by stating "he is a state attorney and he dares her to charge him... Mr. Pregen goes on to flash his badge again to the female employee." The assistant prosecutor also claimed it was illegal for the club to take his fingerprint because he was a state employee. (To prevent allegations of committing credit card fraud, strip clubs will take a customer's fingerprint and driver's license.)
In his complaint, Levy said he let Pregen's rude behavior slide but told the prosecutor not to return to Goldrush.
The strip club manager decided to report Pregen because he was "highly upset that a person would abuse his power and position as a state attorney, demanding things for free and intimidate the working-class person."
Levy added, "There is nothing more dangerous than a person who defends the law and then abuses the law and his position for self-gain."
Bondi forwarded Levy's complaint to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. On February 7, Don Horn, chief assistant state attorney; Lorna Salomon, senior employment counsel; and Joseph Mansfield, chief of the State Attorney's DUI/Crimes section, called Pregen in to address the complaint.
According to a termination letter written by Salomon, Pregen "denied having engaged in any inappropriate conduct and denied violating any office policies." However, his bosses subsequently received additional information from Levy such as a still image of Pregen flashing his badge inside Goldrush. Levy also told Mansfield that, despite being told not to return to the club, Pregen visited Goldrush February 2 "and repeated the unbecoming conduct."
On February 8, for the second time in two days, Pregen falsely denied acting a fool and abusing his position. "Because we had proof that Mr. Pregen's assertions were false and we found his statements not to be credible, Mr. Pregen was terminated," Salomon wrote.
Before packing up his belongings, Pregen tried to salvage his job by penning a sappy, woe-is-me apology letter:
Sorry, Ari, but the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office did right by canning you. Good luck with your new career as an ambulance chaser.
[H/T to Justice Building Blog]
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.