BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
''Verdugo has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of a fact-finding Internal Affairs investigation,'' Hollywood police spokesman Lt. Manny Marino said Thursday.
Earlier this week, several Internet bloggers posted photographs and video clips from a 1996 gay bondage film called Rope Rituals featuring an actor who closely resembles Verdugo. Both men have similar faces and tattoos on their biceps.
The producer of the film, Rope Rituals, said he does not believe Verdugo appeared in the film. ''I think they've got the wrong guy,'' Christopher O'Neal said.
Verdugo has done nothing to bring disgrace to himself or the police department, his lawyer said Thursday afternoon.
"My client is a distinguished member of the law enforcement community for over 10 years, said Broward attorney Alberto Milian. "My client has done absolutely nothing wrong. Nothing unethical. Nothing to bring discredit upon his police department, except serve his community.''
Verdugo should be judged on his longtime record as a police officer, Milian said.
''Once someone has been vetted for that job and proven as serving the community, they should be judged on that record and nothing else,'' he said.
Verdugo, 34, has not been accused of any crime. Milian declined to discuss specifics of the case because of the pending investigation.
Milian said Verdugo has been ''unfairly scrutinized'' because he is gay.
''When you're gay in America and involved in the military or law enforcement, it hasn't gone to a level playing field,'' Milian said. "That's coming from someone who served 18 years in the reserves.''
Milian described the Internet allegations as "salacious.''
''We need to be more mature as a society,'' Milian said. "I'm not the same person that I was at 17 as I am at 48.''
Verdugo joined the Hollywood Police Department in 2001, five years after Rope Rituals was filmed in San Francisco.
The officer has not been accused of any crime. He joined the Hollywood Police Department in 2001, five years after Rope Rituals was filmed in San Francisco.
According to O'Neal, the actor in the film -- billed as Jeremy Wess -- showed him a driver's license with another name, not Verdugo's.
Driver's licenses and passports are routinely used for porn actors' identification, O'Neal said.
''We get that on all the models,'' said O'Neal, who declined to give any other information about the actor, except that the driver's license shown to him was not from Florida.
''We sign a confidentiality agreement,'' he said.
Last month, Verdugo appeared as a contestant on the HGTV reality show Design Star, in which he and others competed in design tasks hoping to win a shot at their own network TV show.
His appearance resulted in much publicity, both locally and nationally. On an episode taped months ago and broadcast on Sunday, TV judges removed him and another contestant from the competition.
As a result of the pictures and videos that began to crop up on the Internet a few days ago, HGTV began its own investigation, said Lynn Davis, the network's public relations director. ''Our investigations and conversations about this are confidential,'' Davis said Wednesday night.