A lieutenant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office admitted under oath during an internal affairs investigation interview that he ran restricted law enforcement database checks on three of his wife’s former coworkers in the mermaid burlesque show at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale.
In the sworn interview, Lt. Jeff Mellies, a 22-year BSO veteran, claimed he ran driver-license and criminal-record background checks on the mermaid performers as part of a “criminal investigation.”
But there was no investigation on paper and no criminal complaints filed against the women, a fact that prompted the lead investigator in his internal affairs case, Sgt. Lizzie Handras, to ask Mellies whether he was being “misleading.”
“No,” answered Mellies. “Everything’s a potential criminal investigation until it’s not, in my opinion.”
Mellies is under investigation for allegedly misusing Florida’s Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID) to pry into the pasts of the mermaid performers, whom he befriended back in 2018 when his wife Mia was a member of the troupe.
After Mia Mellies was fired from the show, the couple allegedly conducted vicious harassment campaigns against the owner of the show, Wendy “Marina” Anderson, performer Whitney Fair, and, to a lesser degree, performer Janelle Smiley. (See “Aquaticat Fight,” a New Times investigation published in April.)
In February, attorney Gary Kollin filed a lawsuit against Mellies in U.S. District Court on behalf of Fair and Smiley, alleging invasion of privacy after they learned from public-records requests that the lieutenant had run the restricted DAVID and Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC) law-enforcement checks on them.
“This man conducted police searches on us in order to gain information about his wife’s coworkers,” Whitney Fair tells New Times. “That’s scary to me. And then he turned around and used that information to make us look like bad people when we’re not. He’s the one who abused his power.”
The IA investigation, based on a complaint filed by Kollin, commenced last year. BSO’s findings are now pending a criminal investigation of the case by the State Attorney’s Office, which remains active, agency spokeswoman Paula McMahon tells New Times.
BSO won’t discuss the active case but may have tipped its hand in letters mailed to Anderson and Fair in June. In the letters, Sergeant Handras informed the two women that the BSO’s IA investigation found that the DAVID system had indeed been “misused” in their cases and that their “personal information had been compromised by unauthorized use.”
Mellies’ civil attorney, Tammy Alvarez, says there will be no comment with litigation pending. But the lieutenant tells his story clearly in his sworn interview in the IA case, a transcript of which was obtained by New Times.
During the interview, Mellies insisted that the database searches he conducted on the women were legitimate, but he provided seemingly random and uncorroborated reasons for conducting them.
In Fair’s case, for instance, Mellies cited suspicions based not on any potential criminal behavior but on personal observations.
“Whitney never had any identification,” he told investigators. “Whitney never talked about her personal life. Whitney didn’t have a car. She had no husband, she had no children, and she had no job.”
Mellies, who said he served as “quasi-volunteer security” for the mermaids during his wife’s roughly year-long tenure with the show, said he also found it odd that Fair lived in a one-bedroom pool house and claimed that she had no telephone.
“I said to myself, ‘You know what? I’ve been around a long time [and] this isn’t normal. This woman’s hiding from something,'” he said. “So I had reason to believe she may have warrants and I wanted to know what was going on with her.”
Fair tells New Times she was stunned to learn of Mellies’ rationale for invading her privacy.
“Looking me up because I don’t have a husband, kids, car, and job?” Fair asks rhetorically. “What is that? He doesn’t know anything about my personal life.”
She says Mellies’ rationalization wasn’t merely ridiculous but also false, pointing out that she had identification (a driver’s license, passport, etc.), a car, a job, and a phone at the time.
“What a pathetic excuse for law enforcement,” adds Fair, who also works as a voice actress, yoga instructor, and Airbnb entrepreneur. “Do they not have anything better to do? Suspicious mermaids?”
Mia Mellies, who works as a firefighter in Coral Springs and claims to be a witch, publicly blamed Fair for her firing because it occurred after the two had a heated argument at the swimming pool before a show.
Anderson, the owner of the mermaid show, told investigators that the real reason was that both Mia and her husband were “intimidators” who seemed to be trying to take over the show.
After the firing, Jeff and Mia Mellies wrote social media posts attacking Anderson and Fair, and Mia broadcast videos lashing out at her three former mermaid colleagues.
In a bizarre twist, the couple moved in next door to Fair in Fort Lauderdale’s Victoria Park neighborhood, where Fair’s surveillance system captured the lieutenant climbing a fence into her yard and at one point scaling a ladder on the side of her home where he duct-taped over the lens of her security camera.
The couple also confronted Fair at her home over colored lights she had on her property. In recordings captured at the time, they both can be heard cursing at Fair, with Mia at one point screaming at her, “I fucking can’t stand you! I hope you fucking die!”
Jeff Mellies claimed in his IA interview that moving in next door to Fair happened strictly by chance and that he believed Fair was spying on him and his wife in his backyard with her security camera. In a video posted to social media, Mia Mellies said she objected to the camera in part because she and her husband were both “practicing pagans” who took part in nude rituals in the backyard.
Mellies told investigators that he and Mia at times become “intimate” in the backyard as well.
One Big Fabrication
Mellies told investigators that he was suspicious of Fair’s colleague Smiley as well, in part based on hearing her talk at the bar after mermaid shows.
“She specifically said that she believed her license was suspended,” Mellies said. “She was driving the other women around with the show, and to make sure that she wasn’t driving on a suspended license, I queried her name through DAVID.”
He said he told Smiley at the time that he had run her license information.
Smiley tells New Times that Mellies never informed her that he ran her driver’s license and that his entire story is false.
“That never happened,” Smiley says. “I’ve never had suspicion that my driver’s license was suspended. I’m a traveling massage therapist. My driver’s license is my life.”
Broward court records show that Smiley had no outstanding driving issues at the time and hadn’t received a traffic ticket for several years. She said she was not involved in “multiple” car accidents, either — only one small incident that left neither vehicle damaged and no one injured.
“It’s one big fabrication,” Smiley says of Mellies’ story. “It boggles my mind.”
Mellies also made several unsubstantiated but potentially damaging personal claims about Smiley in his statements to IA. He said he’d learned she had a racy Internet page and claimed, with no evidence, that she was a “prostitute.”
Smiley laughs off the accusation — “I think that’s insulting to actual sex workers” — but says it hurts to learn that someone, especially a law enforcement officer, has made untrue attacks on her character. She adds that she socialized infrequently with the Mellieses when they were involved with the mermaid team, though they hired her twice to provide massage services at their house.
“Why would you let me come to your home if you thought that about me?” Smiley asks. “These are supposed to be our community leaders, heroes of our town. How are you protecting and serving when you do background checks on us? It’s ridiculous.”
It Was Terrifying
Anderson, who owns the mermaid show, told IA investigators that Mia Mellies and her often-present husband were initially welcome additions to the mermaid squad she dubbed the Aquaticats. But then they began to seemingly try to control the show and make wild allegations about her.
“I’ve been running the show for years,” Anderson told IA. “So I never had any troubles with anybody, really. In all the years that I did this show, the worst that would happen is a disagreement from time to time, but nothing this alarming. So I was a little gobsmacked.”
She told investigators that after Mia was fired, the couple’s attacks continued online. Anderson, a licensed pilot and a former firefighter, said the couple falsely claimed she didn’t have a pilot’s license and that she’d never been certified as a firefighter.
“They’re spreading on social media, saying that I’m treating my employees badly, that I’m a thief, that I’ve stolen money, that I’m a fake, all this stuff,” Anderson said. “And they were trying to discredit my persona. It was a smear campaign.”
She said she, like Fair and Smiley, never responded in any way to the Mellieses’ attacks, even as she thought during low points that the couple was going to destroy her “livelihood.”
“I’m not a vengeful, angry person,” she said. “I just want peace and, uh, some people’s nature I guess, is just not like that. I don’t know — it was disappointing.”
Asked to explain why he ran the database checks on Anderson, Mellies claimed he’d happened to see her car speeding on Federal Highway in Pompano Beach, where he was serving as patrol commander.
“I knew she lived up that way someplace, so I drove around through the neighborhoods,” Mellies told investigators. “I found the car. I ran the tag to confirm it was her. It came back to her.”
He further explained that he’d run the check so he’d know to avoid Anderson’s house if there was a police call because he didn’t want her to accuse him of wrongdoing. “I knew that at some point they would try and turn this around and throw blame against me for something,” he said.
Mellies alleged that it was the mermaid performers who’d set out to systematically destroy him and his wife, not the other way around.
“What’s really going here is like a Mean Girls type of thing,” he told IA. “These three women are all best friends. They have nothing to do with their lives other than harass, stalk, and cause us problems. Their main goal in life, and they’ve told people this, is to get us fired. They get off on this. They’re enjoying it and they are weaponizing our agencies against us.”
Kollin, the attorney representing Fair and Smiley, says that claim is wildly untrue.
“He created a tremendous paper trail of privacy-law violations,” Kollin tells New Times. “And he fabricated outlandish and absurd stories in an effort to cover his tracks.”
Anderson told IA she never responded to the couple’s attacks and actively avoided encounters with them. She recounted an instance when she was shopping for mermaid costuming at the Hustler adult store in 2019 and became “petrified” when she saw Jeff Mellies in the store.
“I saw the back of his head, I mean, you can’t miss it, it’s very distinct,” she recalled. “And I just remember waiting. I mean, I couldn’t breathe… I couldn’t physically be in the same place without feeling anxiety, knowing how toxic these people are. I just couldn’t move. I was like a deer in the headlights.”
She said she hid in the store and waited for him to leave. Anderson told Handras she’d interacted with cops before but never had an experience like that.
“This is the first time it was terrifying,” she said.
Mellies’ fate now hangs in the balance as prosecutors investigate the criminal case. Smiley says she believes that at the very least he should be forced to turn in his badge.
“I honestly don’t think he should be a police officer,” she says. “[Mellies said] horrible things about us that are untrue. It’s not illegal to be single. It’s not illegal not to have a car. If he’s doing that, that’s not a person who protects and serves. This guy is not a cop. He does not deserve the badge. He does not deserve to have ‘hero’ next to his name.”
About the Author: Bob Norman is an award-winning investigative reporter who serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Florida Trident and journalism program director for the Florida Center for Government Accountability. This story was reported by Miami New Times in partnership with the FLCGA.