Drugs and Sexual Harassment Rampant at Festival Flea Market, Lawsuit Says

As patrons were bargain-hunting for flashy iPhone cases and designer perfume at Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach, all sorts of shady deals were happening in its back offices, a new lawsuit alleges. 

In the 84-page complaint, the flea market's former chief financial officer, Harlene Zweig, accuses owner Daniel Shooster of smoking marijuana, popping pills at work, sexual harassment of female employees and tenants, and bribing Broward sheriff's deputies to run personal errands for him. After working there for 22 years, Zweig is suffering emotionally and is now suing for at least $1 million in damages, her attorney Michael Moskowitz says.

"Harlene [Zweig] suffered significant emotional distress," Moskowitz tells New Times. "She tried to stop but she resigned because there was nothing she could do, and she couldn't handle the harassment and abuse anymore."

Shooster's attorneys, listed as Angel Cortinas and Jonathan Kaskel, did not return multiple messages seeking comment. BSO spokesperson Veda Coleman-Wright confirmed the allegations involving the officers are currently being investigated. 

According to the lawsuit, Shooster has been giving BSO deputies hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards for years, which is a violation of BSO policy. One detective is even accused of accepting vacations to the Bahamas and Las Vegas and of running errands for Shooster — including escorting him to the airport, picking up his mail, and checking up on his elderly mother in Boca Raton. 

But Shooster allegedly did more than just cozy up to BSO. Zweig also accuses her former boss of using illegal drugs during business hours. Not only would the drug use make Shooster restless, says Zweig, but he forgot agreements he made before. The lawsuit alleges that Shooster would sneak out of work to smoke marijuna in nearby warehouses he owned. Zweig also claims that Shooster abused his position by pressuring an elderly female employee suffering from rheumatoid arthritis to hand over her prescription pills for his recreational use. Another time, he allegedly coerced a female employee in the promotions department to carry his marijuana for him on a business trip to Las Vegas.

The lawsuit states: "All of the foregoing violations of law by Dan Shooster and all of his other outrageous, shocking, offensive, immoral, intolerable, erratic, hostile, unprofessional, and abusive conduct as more particularly described hereinabove further served to create an illegal and extremely hostile and abusive working environment for Mrs. Zweig and all of the other Festival employees and made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Mrs. Zweig to perform her job duties."

Zweig also states that sexual harassment was something she and other female employees regularly faced. The lawsuit alleges Shooster constantly commented on women's bodies and made inappropriate comments as he looked at female customers from his office window overlooking the parking lot. The lawsuit lists a handful of scenarios: One time, Shooster remarked on the "amazing body" of a high-school summer assistant, and another time he made "sexual remarks" about a maintenance supervisor's wife. Zweig also claims that Shooster would essentially high-five male employees for speaking about their sexual exploits, like the time when a male employee said he was receiving oral sex from a female employee during office hours.

Tenants and vendors with better bodies received better business deals, the lawsuit states. Zweig contends Shooster commented about one tenant's breast size, suggesting "that the foam insulation spray above [her] booth was from all the men who ejaculate as they walked by her booth looking at her huge breasts." Another time, when a vendor came in for a meeting, Zweig states Shooster commented afterward "that she was very pretty and that if she had larger breasts she would be perfect." He gave really good deals to vendors he lusted after, the lawsuit states.

Another time, an ice cream shop owner came in for a meeting "wearing a very revealing shirt and after the meeting Dan Shooster would not stop talking about how huge her breasts were and that she must have had a 'boob job.' Dan Shooster gave her much better terms for both of these businesses in comparison to the terms he gave to other vendors," according to the suit. Zweig states that Shooster also wouldn't penalize her for being late with her rent. 

Though Zweig complained to the human resources office, the lawsuit states that she was powerless to effect any change. Her attorney, Michael Moskowitz, says that more than a dozen former employees can attest to Zweig's claims. 
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson