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Mikey V of 'Design Star' fights to keep police certification after porn film leads to firing

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BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Former Design Star contestant Mike Verdugo, fired from his job as a Hollywood cop after word spread on the Internet that he once filmed a 15-minute gay porn scene, is fighting to keep his Florida police certification.

"I still want to be a cop," said Verdugo, 36, following a Tuesday news conference at the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors. "My goal -- not a practical one -- is to go back to Hollywood."

Hollywood Police fired Verdugo -- and HGTV's Design Star dumped him -- after a 1996 video turned up online showing the future cop in a 15-minute bondage scene from a gay porn flick called Rope Rituals.

Verdugo, who grew up in Hialeah, says he made the film for $700 at age 22 as a way of exploring his sexuality. He performed nude in a bondage scene, but didn't engage in hardcore sex, he said.

Three years later, he decided to become a police officer. Verdugo said it never occurred to him to put the movie on his résumé‚ when he first became a Lauderhill cop in 1999, or when he applied to the Hollywood department two years later.

Hollywood Police fired him for not disclosing previous employment -- the porn film -- on his job application, Verdugo's lawyers said.

After the firing, Verdugo (known on Design Star as Mikey V) appealed to the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement to let him stay a certified police officer. The FDLE tentatively agreed, but the city of Hollywood wants Verdugo stripped of his certification, his lawyers said.

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Tampa.

Hollywood Police spokesman Lt. Manny Marino said Tuesday that his department would not comment on the Verdugo case.

DSC_1678[1] Verdugo's lawyers held the news conference and rally at the Pride Center to encourage members of Broward's substantial gay community to contact Hollywood city officials.

"The power of the masses is in front of me and we have to rely on you,'' Wilton Manors attorney George Castrataro told the crowd of about 100 people.

Castrataro said he and fellow lawyer Norm Kent are representing Verdugo for free and that if any money is won in the case it will be donated to a gay charity.

Kent, a longtime gay civil-rights activist who also publishes South Florida Gay News, said that Hollywood has offered to drop its case against Verdugo if he "drops his case against them."

Verdugo won't. "I want my case to be an example of what happens in Florida," he said.

Regardless of what happens Thursday in Tampa,  Verdugo says he will continue to lobby for passage of ENDA, a proposed federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act that would prevent gay and transgender people from being fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Top photo: Mike Verdugo addresses the crowd at the Pride Center at Equality Park. 

Bottom photo: Verdugo, right, and his boyfriend, Pembroke Pines police officer Mike Silver, at Tuesday's news conference.

Photos by STEVE ROTHAUS / Miami Herald Staff

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It's clear to me that Officer Verdugo was discriminated and discharged because he was gay. Current EEOE laws in Florida (and many other states) do not protect against discrimination in the workplace for gender related issues. Despite the details of the situation, discrimination is wrong. Had Officer Verdugo been fired for being less than a good officer, maybe then I could accept it. But the City is in my opinion wasting valuable taxpayer money on a vendetta. To even things up, I say let's clean up the HPD and fire Chief Wagner, Officers Granteed and Jones and those on their staff who also delivered newspapers or delivered pizza while they were in college. Those are jobs, are they not? Yet, we seldomly list those on our applications! It's a shame the City isn't more concerned about reducing crime. MY HEART GOES OUT TO OFFICER VERDUGO, WHO DESPITE HIS CHALLENGES AT WORK CONTINUED TO PROTECT AND SERVE THE PEOPLE.

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