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Starwood Must Face Suit on Prostitution Scheme

(CN) - Multibillion-dollar hotel chain Starwood must face claims that the prostitutes it housed at the W South Beach sent a guest to the hospital, a federal judge ruled.

Describing themselves as regulars of the Miami Beach hotel, Joseph and Anna Burgese say they were walking through the lobby on Jan. 19, 2013, when an "unknown number" of women made "an unprovoked, sudden, violent attack" on Anna.

One of the women tackled the "petite" Mrs. Burgese from behind "with such force that she flew out of her shoes" and "was driven face first into the stone floor," their complaint alleges.

After the attacker struck Mrs. Burgese repeatedly, hotel staff detained her and the others until police arrived, per Mr. Burgese's request, they say. One employee allegedly claimed to know the assailant's identity.

With Mrs. Burgese going to the hospital in an ambulance, the couple allegedly elected not to take further action "to pursue, identify or detain the attackers at that time."

They claimed in their lawsuit that hotel staff subsequently helped the attackers escape in a taxi, and failed to identify them for either the Burgeses or the police.

The Burgeses says their own investigation has revealed that the attackers were prostitutes who would have exposed the hotel's complicity in their illegal activity.

Claiming that the W Hotel in New York City is also complicit, the Burgeses say Starwood Hotels & Resorts welcomes "prostitutes into their hotels in order to entice wealthy customers to spend money on hotel services."

With the company belief that prostitutes are "welcome and good for business," Starwood staffers openly arrange and manage meetings between prostitutes and guests, the Burgeses claim.

The couple filed their latest amended complaint against Starwood, 2201 Collins Fee LLC and others in Camden, N.J. last year, alleging violations of the Florida Civil Remedies for Criminal Practices Act, negligence, premises liability, and other claims

U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb refused to dismiss the RICO claims last week.

"Plaintiffs have adequately alleged injuries cognizable under the Florida RICO Act," Bumb wrote. "The amended complaint alleges that Mrs. Burgese was the subject of a violent and unprovoked attack by a prostitute and suffered serious physical injury and mental anguish that has prevented her from returning to work. Such allegations are sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss."

The plaintiffs also managed to identify a viable RICO enterprise, the ruling states.

"The amended complaint alleges that Starwood, W Hotel, and 2201 Collins, each acting through their employees, and various unnamed prostitutes, associated with one another for the purpose of increasing profits through institutionalized prostitution," Bumb wrote (emphasis in original).

The Burgeses adequately alleged a pattern of racketeering activity, the judge ruled.

"Because the amended complaint alleges that similar activities occurred several months later, in October and November 2013, plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a pattern of racketeering activity that has been continuous and threatens to continue in the future," Bumb wrote.

Starwood reported last year having reaped nearly $6 billion in revenue.

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