Miami-Dade judicial candidate Marcia del Rey and her family own a string of erotic-themed motels — and now her opponent wants her kicked off the ballot, claiming she is hiding income that may stem from the chain’s “highly questionable activities.”
Incumbent Jason Bloch filed suit Wednesday in Miami-Dade state court asking that del Rey be removed from the Aug. 30 ballot because of her “lack of constitutional qualifications for office.”
The lawsuit suggests that the family is profiting from hotels that “have been host to various criminal activities, including prostitution, illegal drugs, armed sexual battery and human trafficking.” The complaint says that del Rey has misrepresented her finances, lied about her career history and improperly worked with a political committee funded by her wealthy father.
“There is a host of unsettling issues,” said Joseph Geller, Bloch’s lawyer. “Hopefully, the courts will act.”
Bloch’s lawsuit is an unusual move in normally staid South Florida judicial elections. Candidates are limited in how they campaign — they can’t make promises other than to be fair and impartial, can’t commit to positions about the law and can’t personally solicit donations.
No hearing date has been set, although Bloch’s lawyers asked for quick action because of the looming election.
Campaign spokeswoman Helena Poleo said del Ray “has run a clean, transparent and positive campaign from the beginning. The campaign submitted all the required paperwork and information to the Elections Department, therefore qualifying for this election.”
“In a desperate attempt to stop the democratic process and disenfranchise voters, many of whom have already voted, her opponent has chosen to sue her based on false accusations, instead of letting the voters decide,” Poleo added.
Bloch’s campaign manager wouldn’t comment. A former Miami-Dade county attorney, he was appointed to the bench in 2014. He is well-funded — his net worth, according to financial disclosures, is $37 million, much of it from investments and trust accounts. He has loaned his campaign $300,000, and counts over $151,00 in donations.
Del Rey is also well-funded. Her family’s wealth stems from the chain of hotels that include the Executive Airport Hotel, which features “acclaimed themed rooms” such as the “Cave and the The Jungle Suite” and the Executive Tropical Garden Hotel, which features heart-shaped jacuzzis, disco balls and mirrored rooms.
Critics have long complained such hotels are havens for prostitution and drugs. The del Reys have a long, and at times sordid, history involving hotels in Miami-Dade, including numerous investigations and lawsuits.
Marcia del Rey’s uncle, Francisco del Rey, was the subject of several law-enforcement investigations over the decades. He wound up indicted in Puerto Rico in 1991 for his role in a ring that brought stolen cars from Miami to San Juan. He got a year's probation and a $1,000 fine.
In the mid-1990s, his namesake son — Marcia’s cousin — made the news for killing three people in a car crash; he was sentenced to four years in prison for manslaughter.
If the Airport Executive Hotel sounds familiar, that’s because it was the scene of the notorious life-insurance murder of young bride Wendy Trapaga in 2002. Her husband, Michel Escoto, beat her to death inside the “Egyptian Room” in a scheme to collect life insurance money. He was convicted at trial in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison.
Marcia del Rey and her father, Julio, also own the Executive Fantasy Hotel in Puerto Rico, which is now singled out in Bloch’s lawsuit.
Under Florida law, according to the suit, del Rey was required to disclose her income from the island hotel, but instead listed only “Puerto Rico” on the financial disclosure forms. The documents “do not disclose the nature and extent of her compensation and profit from hotel and accommodation businesses that purportedly serve as the host venue for a myriad of highly questionable activities.”
The lawsuit does not offer any evidence that del Rey has been directly involved or directly profited from any illegal activities at the hotels.
The lawsuit also includes court documents and news accounts about a ring of purported sex traffickers accused of running a prostitution operation at the family’s El Paraiso Motel in Hialeah. But del Rey, the suit points out, has held herself out as an “advocate for families and children, purportedly someone who helps victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.”
The lawsuit also goes after del Rey’s campaign literature claims that she worked as an “assistant state attorney,” even though she was fired while still a “legal trainee” and before she was sworn in as a lawyer in November 2005.
Bloch goes after a committee known as Stand up to Violence, which is an “electioneering communications organization” and is prohibited from overtly campaigning for a candidate. It urges voters to cast their ballot for del Rey. The committee is “funded almost entirely” by Julio del Rey, the candidate’s father, who kicked in $185,000, according to the suit.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the committee to stop spending money on the campaign.