Rumble in Little Havana: Ball & Chain owner sues city of Miami for $28M

Mad Room Hospitality and its affiliates allege Miami officials broke laws and acted unethically in shutting down nightlife venue and restaurant

Landlord Bill Fuller with Ball & Chain bar and Taquerias el Mexicano restaurant (Barlington, Ball & Chain, Facebook via Taquerias El Mexicano)
Landlord Bill Fuller with Ball & Chain bar and Taquerias el Mexicano restaurant (Barlington, Ball & Chain, Facebook via Taquerias El Mexicano)

UPDATED, Oct. 1, 6:20 p.m.: An allegedly illegal code enforcement crackdown coordinated by a Miami city commissioner has financially ruined two popular venues on Southwest Eighth Street, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

Four affiliates of Mad Room Hospitality, a company tied to Little Havana developer and landlord Bill Fuller, are looking to collect $27.9 million in damages from the city of Miami caused by the closings of Ball & Chain bar and Taquerias el Mexicano restaurant, the complaint states.

Mad Room Hospitality, which is also co-owned by brothers Zach and Ben Bush, owns both establishments. Fuller and his other business partner, Martin Pinilla, also co-founded Barlington Group, a real estate development firm based in Little Havana. Both companies recently acquired a stake in the historic Mai Kai restaurant in Oakland Park.

The lawsuit is Fuller’s latest salvo against the city, stemming from a feud with Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo that has been ongoing since 2018. Carollo, a controversial elected official, allegedly targeted Ball & Chain and the developer’s other properties because Fuller supported an opposing candidate in the 2017 election. Ball & Chain, at 1513 Southwest Eighth Street, was forced to close last October after the city revoked its certificate of occupancy.

Fuller declined comment via text. Maria Fehretdinov, an attorney for the Mad Room affiliates, said the bar and the restaurant were both closed as “a result of the city’s unlawful conduct.”

“The owners of Ball & Chain and Taquerias have been on the city’s ‘target’ list for years as the city deployed a deliberate plan of retaliation in an attempt to destroy these landmark Miami event spaces,” Fehretdinov said in a text message.

In an email, Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez denied any wrongdoing on the part of city officials. “This is yet another attempt on Mr. Fuller’s part to deflect his illegal management of properties and businesses onto the city,” Mendez said. “We look forward to addressing his conduct in court.”

To bolster its claims, the Mad Room Hospitality affiliates Included in the lawsuit memorandums from Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo and his predecessor, Jorge Colina, warning city leaders that commissioners were interfering with the police department and code enforcement office in ways that ran afoul of city law and county ethics law.

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In an explosive Sept. 24 memo to City Manager Art Noriega and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Acevedo accused Carrollo of using the Miami Police Department as “his personal enforcer against anyone he perceives as offensive.”

“Carollo continues to attempt to influence the MPD and city code enforcement deployment decisions,” Acevedo wrote. “In fact, Carollo and [city commissioner Alex] Diaz de la Portilla provided the MPD with a target list of establishments that they claim are engaged in criminal activity.”

In a Feb. 21, 2019 email to then-City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, then-Police Chief Colina said he was concerned about Mendez requesting Miami police and other departments conduct new site inspections “at the direction of a city commissioner” that targeted a “particular business owner.”

The request “may amount to an unsanctioned and unlawful exercise of powers beyond the limits of his legislative power as a city commissioner to intentionally cause harm to a business owner,” Colina wrote.

While Carollo’s fixation on shutting down Ball & Chain is well documented, the lawsuit reveals a recent crackdown on Taquerias el Mexicano, a 36-year-old taco spot at 521 Southwest Eighth Street acquired by Fuller and the Bushes in 2017.

Miami police and code enforcement officers, along with inspectors from the Florida Division of Alcohol, Beverages and Tobacco have been regularly conducting unwarranted and unlawful inspections of Taquerias since 2018, according to the lawsuit.

“These raids are deliberately conducted on Friday and Saturday nights with the sole purpose of causing substantial business disruption and monetary harm to Taquerias during peak business hours,” the complaint states. “Importantly, these incessant and damaging raids have not resulted in a single liquor violation by Taquerias.”

The lawsuit alleges the city unlawfully revoked Taquerias certificate of occupancy on Sept. 21.