Florida Keys

Drama at a hotel: a withdrawal, an arrest and a lawsuit against the police chief

The Southernmost House, 1400 Duval St., was built as a private home in 1896. Today, it’s an 18-room hotel.
The Southernmost House, 1400 Duval St., was built as a private home in 1896. Today, it’s an 18-room hotel. Southernmost Hotel

A management dispute over an 18-room Key West hotel has turned into a federal lawsuit that accuses Key West’s city attorney and police chief of teaming up with a private company to arrest a hotel manager to force him off the property.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Key West, demands $1.2 million.

Monday, the city, Key West City Attorney Shawn Smith and Police Chief Donie Lee were served with notice of the lawsuit, as were the Southernmost House Inc. and its president, Key West attorney Michael Halpern.

Among the allegations in the suit is that between Oct. 31 and Nov. 21, Halpern wrongfully withdrew $277,582 from a checking account maintained by Remington Lodging and Hospitality.

“They’re accusing me of stealing my own money,” Halpern said Tuesday. “I sent them a letter saying you’re terminated. They said, we’re not going to leave.”

Halpern said he is within his rights to fire Remington and said the company threatened to have him arrested if he stepped foot on the property.

“Which I own,” Halpern said. “I’m managing it now.”

Halpern called Remington a bully while Remington said it is the one being harassed.

Remington and Joseph Dantoni, general manager of its Key West properties, filed the 56-page lawsuit Friday, the day Dantoni was taken away from the Southernmost House, 1400 Duval St., by police and booked into jail on a misdemeanor trespassing charge.

The night before, at 12 a.m. Dec. 1, Halpern showed up at the Southernmost House with six Key West police officers ordering Dantoni to get out, the lawsuit states.

Dantoni, who was sleeping when, the lawsuit says, Halpern opened his room with his own key, refused. But the rest of Remington’s employees left the premises after Halpern reportedly told them he was taking over the hotel, according to the suit.

Police and Halpern returned the next day and Dantoni was arrested and taken to jail. Dantoni bonded out Friday, posting $328 about four hours after his arrest.

The suit also accuses Halpern and Southernmost of breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation and deceptive and unfair business practices.

City spokeswoman Alyson Crean said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Remington says the arrest was the result of Smith and Lee teaming up with Halpern, who says Remington is violating the contract and wants them out.

In October 2015, the Southernmost group sued Remington in state court for breach of contract, saying Remington failed to run the hotel well. On Oct. 31, 2016, Southernmost served a notice of intent to terminate, accusing Remington of scheming to cheat the owners.

Remington’s lawyers say the management company turned the Southernmost House into a success after inheriting a property in 2009 that had a silverfish crawling the walls and “a noxious museum smell in the rooms,” the suit states.

Remington and Southernmost signed a 10-year deal in 2009, with Remington having the option to renew the agreement for three additional five-year terms. It required a termination fee if Remington were dismissed without cause.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen