EXCLUSIVE: Fourteen years ago, in a lifetime far away, Mike Verdugo spent an afternoon making some extra cash by participating in a stupid gay bondage film called Rope Rituals. He was ripped, cut, handsome, and gay. It was no big deal; just a soft core erotic shoot. Don’t expect to see it on the Golden Globes.
There was nothing illegal about participating in the film. The production was a one time deal taking less than a day to film and Verdugo was paid as a subcontractor with an IRS 1099 form.
But that film on that day would come back to haunt him years later. Today, because of it, he is fighting for his job. Why? Because Mike became a cop. A good one.
You see, five years after shooting nude scenes in Rope Rituals, Mike Verdugo fulfilled a lifetime dream, sworn in as a police officer in the city of Hollywood, Florida. Now, after ten years of distinguished, unblemished, and heroic service, they want to take it all away from him- because of a gay film he made years before.
Mike Verdugo has been an openly gay police officer in a paramilitary world that still harbors resentment and animus towards unconventional lifestyles. During his tenure, he stood up and filed sexual harassment complaints about a discriminatory hostile work environment. They were sustained. His bosses were ordered to sensitivity training, and supervisors admonished. However, some people don’t get angry. They get even.
Because those supervisors wanted their pound of flesh and revenge, they orchestrated a specious and conspiratorial scheme to get rid of Verdugo, superficially alleging his application for employment years before failed to disclose his ‘employment’ in that gay porn film. So they put him on ‘administrative leave.’
Meanwhile, Mike was making a national name for himself as a prominent performer and successful contestant in a television show on HGTV called Design Star. A cop by day, he was designing remarkable and striking minimalistic homes at nite. He became a TV celebrity. Finished fourth out of 10,000 contestants.
If Verdugo had failed to disclose that he played the role of Othello in a Shakespearean play in a community theater, the police department could have cared less. They did not fire him for failing to disclose he worked in a gym for 90 days prior to his employment as a marketing solicitor or trainer. That the city deemed inadvertent, but his participation one afternoon as a nude actor in a gay porn film, that they deem willful, malicious, and deliberate, warranting termination. Who are they kidding?
Mike Verdugo has had to spend the last year fighting for his job in the courts, with arbitrators and counsel. He has one of the best. Verdugo’s lawyer, from Coral Gables, Alberto Milian, sums the situation up succinctly: “Michael has done nothing wrong. Nothing unethical. Nothing to bring discredit upon his police department, except serve his community He has served the community of Hollywood with honor and distinction for over 10 years. The only reason someone would criticize my client is that he publicly has a different lifestyle.”
Milian noted also that “when you’re gay in America and involved in the military or law enforcement, it hasn’t gone to a level playing field.” That’s coming from someone who served 18 years in the Reserves, and is now battling an arbitrator’s adverse ruling in the courts. He has ruled that Hollywood’s firing was justified. Now Mike has to decide whether to spend time and money in legal forums to contest the ruling. We know Mike is a fighter. In 2002, he fought a charity boxing match in Hollywood with Sunrise firefighter Frank Cagan in the Hollywood Young Circle Bandshell, pictured on this page.
As an undercover officer for three years, he seized more drug money for the Hollywood Police Department than any other police officer. Then he worked beach patrol, never cited for misconduct, only rewarded for integrity and courage in the face of danger. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Today, you might recognize his featured and creative work in home design. It has kick started a second career. His companies even had a booth at last year’s gay pride festival in Fort Lauderdale. The companies are Verdugo Design Group and Elite Home Staging, and its websites are www.verdugodesigns.com and www.elitestagers.com.
Readers, I have been a lawyer too long. I tell you this. The city of Hollywood’s claims against Verdugo are transparently disingenuous and generated solely by homophobia. The insidious kind; the type you can’t see on paper, but that Mike lived in uniform.
Mike has never done anything illegal or improper, and you can even argue that his one day film shoot as a porn star was not ‘employment’ within the meaning of a legal definition that had to be recorded on an application. No, let’s face it; the real reason Hollywood wants Mike out is because he came out.
Whether wearing a badge, or designing a kitchen, my friend, Mike, is your partner in the ongoing struggle for our civil rights. Mike Verdugo has been called into the battle and will not be turned away. He is a hero of our revolution.
Attorney Alberto Milian said it best in the brief he wrote in support of Mike Verdugo:
“Throughout American history, anti-miscegenation laws, anti-sodomy laws, and anticohabitation laws were considered standards of good moral behavior. But as society evolved, we came to correctly consider such laws not only unconstitutional but also crass reminders of intolerance and government interference in private matters. Nevertheless, the Hollywood police department appears to operate on a parallel universe oblivious to social evolution.”