Times must be tough for South Beach hookers.
So tough, apparently, that they’ve now taken to beating up their competition — or at least that’s what a vacationing South Jersey woman claims in a civil lawsuit filed against the lavish, four-star W Hotel, where she says a gang of high-priced escorts attacked her.
Anna Burgese, the petite wife of a wealthy suburban Philadelphia homebuilder, claims in the federal lawsuit that as many as 10 prostitutes pounced on her in the hotel lobby on Jan. 19. They mistakenly believed that she was encroaching on their turf, according to Miami Beach police.
Instead of helping Burgese catch the attackers, the suit contends that the “prostitute-friendly’’ hotel put the women in a taxi to facilitate their escape.
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The W, owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, is one of South Beach’s most exclusive and trendiest hotels. Rooms range from $449 to more than $5,000 a night. A spokesman for the hotel chain had no comment, citing the pending litigation.
Prostitution has flourished since the first hotels and tourists arrived on Miami Beach. Wholesome, smartly dressed call girls were a staple in the legendary Poodle Lounge at the Fontainebleau hotel in the 1950s. But over the past decade, Miami Beach’s prostitution rings have taken on a more sophisticated and sinister side, involving sex-trafficking and women from Eastern European countries, known as “B-girls,’’ who fleece deep-pocketed tourists.
“It’s just the nature of the beast. You’re going to have prostitution anywhere that you have money,’’ Miami Beach police spokesman Bobby Hernandez said Monday of the escort trade, which is so notorious that the social media site Yelp even has a category for rating Miami hookers.
Burgese, 34, and her husband, Joseph Burgese, 50, of Medford, N.J., have been patrons of the hotel for years, visiting so often they keep their Rolls Royce parked there, according to their lawyer, Lance Rogers of Philadelphia.
“They’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars at this hotel,’’ Rogers said. The couple is on a cruise off the coast of Italy and could not be reached.
In the suit, filed last week, Burgese claims that the assault was unprovoked and that the prostitutes threw her face-first against a stone wall in front of hotel employees. Her husband, who was on crutches, had been a few steps ahead of her when the attack began. He fought the women off with his crutches, Rogers said.
Miami Beach police apparently weren’t surprised, Rogers said.
“They told her that the women were hookers who were likely drunk or on drugs and mistakenly thought Anna was a prostitute,’’ the lawyer said.
Anna Burgese, who is 5-foot-1 and 105 pounds, was “tackled” to the ground, and suffered a scrape on her knee and a bloody lip, according to the Miami Beach police report. The report said that the hotel’s security escorted one or more of the culprits outside, where the women caught a cab. Burgese told police that she overheard a hotel employee say that he knew one of the women, but later claimed he could not identify her to investigators.
While there are several surveillance cameras in the hotel’s lobby, Hernandez said Monday that investigators did not view or obtain copies of the video because the case was classified as a simple assault, a crime that is typically not investigated.
“We work with the hotel’s security, they know their hotels better than we do,’’ Hernandez said.
Burgese was treated and released from Mount Sinai Medical Center. The suit specifies damages in excess of $150,000.
The couple lives with their three children in a $670,000, five-bedroom, Tudor-style estate in Medford, a suburb of Philadelphia. The lawsuit, first reported in The Philadelphia Daily News, went viral Monday, providing fodder for radio talk shows.
“They are not doing this for the money,’’ Rogers said. “They want justice.’’
Rogers said that Anna Burgess has been ridiculed over the incident.
“She is the butt of a number of jokes and people are drawing conclusions about her appearance which are not founded. This does nothing to encourage other victims to come forward,’’ he said.
One tourist who fell victim to South Beach’s thriving escort trade was from Burgese’s backyard.
In 2010, former Philadelphia TV weatherman John Bolaris claimed that he was taken to the cleaners by a group of Latvian “Bar Girls” who swindled him for $43,000 in bogus booze charges billed to his AMEX card. He met the “B-girls” at the Delano hotel. Three men accused of running the ring out of various South Beach clubs were convicted in December.
Prostitution scandals are not new at W Hotels elsewhere in the country.
In March 2012, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the International Monetary Fund and French presidential candidate, came under scrutiny over his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring that operated out of several hotels, including the W Hotel in Washington, D.C. One of the prostitutes claimed that Strauss-Kahn violently raped her during a sex party at the hotel in December 2010. French prosecutors dropped the case after the hooker recanted, telling investigators that the sex had been consensual.
In 2009, police arrested two prostitutes after an undercover sting at the W Hotel in Buckhead outside of Atlanta, and complaints have been made about prostitution at W hotels in Dallas, San Francisco and New York — where hookers allegedly charged $990 for sex at the hotel, billing it to “Gotham Steaks.’’
Starwood released a statement on Tuesday:
"We truly regret that this incident occurred and that one of our guests was injured. The safety and security of our guests is our paramount priority, and we are taking this situation very seriously. Some of the information being reported, especially the claims that there were multiple persons attacking our guest, is incorrect. Due to pending litigation, we are unable to comment further at this time."