As long as the political parties are talking "war on women," can we please take a look at Charlie Crist's?
Actually, I wouldn't call what Charlie's doing waging a war on women. It's more trying to get by with them by paying lip service to their issues. He's all talk, no walk.
He'll never do it, but Charlie really does need to make amends for the past.
I think it's past time for voters weighing sleaze in the Florida governor's race to connect a few of the former governor's dots.
Sure, everyone knows about Charlie's recent refusal to return contributions from strip club owners. (See the video at the end of this story for a reminder.)
But how many know about his connections to the strip club circuit and the boys who lived and partied around it -- former RPOF Chairman Jim Greer, Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and a South Florida friend named Joe Rodriguez?
These really were Charlie's boys. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, they made up a tight, clubby bunch.
How many realize this, I wonder? How many know how the boys coddled Hallandale strip club owner Rodriguez?
Joe Rodriguez is the owner of a strip club called Cheetah. He is what a number of newspapers offensively describeas "a successful South Florida business owner who stimulates the economy by creating jobs for attractive young women who then use their assets to generate income."
You might not have heard of Rodriguez until Oct. 7, when he contributed $50,000 to Charlie Crist's independent political committee. Why would he do that? Fifty grand -- wow.And why would two other companies that own South Florida strip clubs, J.W. Lee Properties and S.B. Productions, give Charlie $20,000 each on separate occasions?
Let's see. Gratitude? One-pal-to-another money? Anticipated protection? You decide.
In 2009, after a 19-month undercover investigation of Rodriguez's "gentleman's club," law enforcement officers from the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) raided the place and found "rampant drug dealing and prostitution" going on there. They seized five months' worth of videotapes taken inside the club, including in the private back rooms where dancers were recorded engaging in sex acts with customers.
Rodriguez closed the club after the state obtained an emergency order suspending the liquor license.
It must have caused quite the stir for the boys -- Charlie, Greer and Rothstein -- who, in 2009, spent a lot of time watching each other's very scratchable backs. Because whodid Rodriguez turn to when he got caught running his illegal and denigrating operation? Charlies boys, of course.
First, Rodriguez hired Clearwater attorney Luke Lirot, Greers business partner from his days as a consultant for the strip club and bar industry.
Then miraculously -- with a little help from the boys, you think? -- the ABT director was replaced, and the drug and prostitution charges against Joe Rodriguez went away -- swept under the rug for $15,000. The department waived all rights to pursue the case further.Two months after his liquor license was suspended, he cut a deal with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to sell it.Rodriguez never went to jail, never lost his business license.
He's back in business good as new.
Oh, yes, and you'll like this: The three ABT men who had worked on the prostitution and drug investigation at Cheetah all left ABT, hired away for nearly triple their salaries by Rothstein's now defunct law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.
One investigator said he made $65,000 at ABT, but Rothstein was paying him $150,000. Was this Rothstein's version of sleeping with the enemy?
Charlie's friends, Charlie's watch. But now, Charlie doesn't want to know.
Meanwhile, the women in this story ultimately were not prosecuted. But a great deal of information about the women's struggles emerged. Aformer dancer at the strip club even filed a class action lawsuit alleging the operators wrongly classified her and other dancers as contractors instead of employees, failing to pay them minimum wage or any wage at all.
Doesn't that bother Charlie Crist that when Rodriguez was busted, he was in the governor's office, he saw the reports of how Rodriguez's strippers lived? Can the candidate who makes such big, puffy speeches about a $10.10 minimum wage and the Republican war on women really justify taking $90,000 from strip club operators? Especially these?
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith