A year ago, Vicky Gallas embarrassed the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, the agency that serves as Central Florida's vice squad, by not going to jail.
In a two-week trial that capped an MBI investigation dating back to 1994, prosecutors claimed that her business, Valentine's Escort Service, was a front for a wide-reaching prostitution ring, and that she was the greedy madam pushing her employees into prostitution.
The jury didn't buy it -- MBI director Bill Lutz said the jury didn't understand "what goes on in a vice subculture" -- and found her not guilty on charges of racketeering. It was a black eye for the MBI, which uses hard-line tactics to bust hookers, dopers and porn pushers, but has been tarred by disastrous, high-profile investigative flops at Rachel's Men's Club in Casselberry and Jerry's General Store.
Gallas wanted retribution for what she perceived as the malicious way the MBI attacked her. In August, she filed a civil-rights complaint against Lutz, Orange County Sheriff (and MBI board member) Kevin Beary and MBI agent Brant Rose.
On Jan. 8, however, her lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning she cannot refile her complaint.
The basis of her civil suit was that Rose and other MBI agents bent the rules in their war against escort services (the MBI claims to have shut down 250 of them, and Rose said in court testimony that he thought all escort services were prostitution fronts), using threats and coercion to extract confessions and plea deals from potential targets. Gallas alleged that Rose lied 31 times in the arrest warrant affidavit against her, and that Lutz and Beary knew it.
In her civil complaint, Gallas alleges that Rose threatened to bring a TV news crew to an escort's home, film her arrest and hold her without bond for a month unless she offered up damning testimony against Gallas.
Gallas also claims that Rose called her elderly mother to tell her Gallas was involved in organized crime. And though the MBI successfully coerced her business partner, Rocky Mihalek, into making statements against her, the statements were so unbelievable prosecutors couldn't use them at trial.
Still, Judge Anne C. Conway ruled that there was still probable cause to arrest Gallas, voiding her civil-rights claim.
Gallas still has options. She could appeal, or pursue a false arrest and/or malicious prosecution case in state court. "I'm better off making mincemeat out of them in a book," she says. "`The courts are`, let's face it, their playground. They can get away with anything."
There is one final troubling anecdote from Gallas' story: Her criminal case file is apparently missing from Orange County records. In a letter from criminal division manager Marlene Muscatello to Gallas, dated Dec. 23, the discrepancy is explained thus: "`T`he file was checked out of our office on March 2003 (sic) and has not been in the possession of the Clerk's office since then ... . At this time, our search efforts have not produced the original court file. However, in the meantime, the file was reproduced based on the documents contained in the Statewide Prosecutor's file. Unfortunately, the Statewide Prosecutor's file does not contain all the documents that were in the original court file."
So if you want to review Gallas' file, all you'll see is what prosecutors produce.
"I've had enough of them and their crap," says Gallas. "I'll soon be getting the hell out of Florida."