South Beach VFW Hall Shuttered After Police Bust Cocaine Dealing, Gambling Inside

VFW Hall 3559 is a bizarre relic of a time before South Beach glitz. Hidden inside the Floridian condo tower, the venue requires patrons to ring a bell at an unmarked side door and get buzzed in via hidden camera. Inside, sweeping views of Biscayne Bay contrast with a grimy, smoke-filled dive where bottles of Bud rest on ratty pool tables.

The cheap beer wasn't the only throwback to an earlier era in South Beach, though. Police now say the bar was a secret hot spot for cocaine dealing and illegal gambling. After a six-month sting, the VFW hall has now been shut down, and a bartender and a regular customer face felony charges.

It's an ignominious moment in the bar's long history. A VFW hall has stood at the location since 1936, the hall's commander told New Times in 2009. When developers wanted to buy the land to build the Floridian, the VFW demanded its hall be rebuilt on the second floor.   

Even as South Beach turned into an international playground for the young and beautiful, the VFW hall was mostly filled with gray-haired World War II and Vietnam vets and a few younger locals who stopped by $3 beer specials and the dive ambiance. 

But Miami Beach Police believed darker deals were afoot inside, and midway through last year, they set up a sting at the bar. 

One detective honed in on a regular named Miguel Sacerio, a 61-year-old with one prior felony arrest, for cocaine in 2010, though prosecutors had dropped those charges. Beginning last November, an undercover detective began buying $20 worth of coke from him inside the VFW hall. 

After three buys at the bar, the detective told Sacerio he wanted more — two full ounces, which would cost $2,400, Sacerio said. On January 21, they set up a buy at 16th Street and Jefferson Avenue. When Sacerio got into the detective's car, he balked.

"I have it in my pocket," he said, according to a police report. "What is wrong with you, you want me to show it to you here in the street?"

That's when police swooped in and arrested Sacerio.

Meanwhile, back at the VFW hall, police closed in on another target. They focused on a gaming machine at the back of the bar. On April 21, a detective bought $20 worth of credits on the machine, which was essentially an electronic slot machine. He lost most of his credits and then won a big prize that gave him $20 — when he took his ticket to the bar, a bartender gave him his full cash back.

Last Thursday, police raided the bar. They arrested the bartender who'd given out the illegal winnings, 50-year-old Resty Cordova. As they moved to handcuff him, police say, Cordova dropped a baggie full of five grams of cocaine and four Xanax pills.

Cordova faces felony charges of cocaine possession, gambling, and possession of a controlled substance. Sacerio is charged with cocaine possession and intent to sell, as well as drug trafficking.   

The VFW hall remains closed. It's not clear when, or if, it will reopen.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink