Should School Return Donation from Strip Club Owner?

January 29, 2011; Source: Miami Herald | For some time now, parks, school football teams, and groups that support low-income children have been grateful for support from Florida businessman Joe Rodriguez. But once people learned how Rodriquez makes his money, at least one beneficiary was urged to give back a $20,000 gift.

It turns out that Rodriquez runs strip clubs in several Florida cities. According to the Miami Herald, Rodriquez' ties to the sex industry were disclosed in late January by a columnist for the Palm Beach Post. The news came right after Rodriquez made a $10,000 gift – his second for that amount in as many years – to Roosevelt Elementary in West Palm Beach. Word of Rodriquez' occupation, which he hadn't spoken about in the past, apparently has rankled some in the community.

They include Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, who wants the school to return the money. “It came from someone associated with the exploitation of women – and that demeans half the population,'' Verdugo said. “If you do that, where do you draw the line? That's not the message to send to kids – that it's OK to exploit women.''

Others who are hearing for the first time about the nature of Rodriguez' business dealings are both grateful for his past support and more forgiving. For example, three years ago, Rodriquez donated $50,000 to keep a park from closing. While saying he doesn't condone Rodriquez' occupation, West Park Mayor Eric H. Jones Jr. said he is grateful for the gift, which also allowed the city to keep programs going in the park that serve several hundred at-risk teens. “One has to look at the broader picture,'' Jones said. “This is a business that is legal, even though, in a lot of circles, it isn't fully received by society." Added Jones, "You have to ask `Does the good outweigh the bad?'”

Several years ago Rodriquez gave money to Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach to pay for football uniforms. Broward school's Spokesperson Marcy Smith said the district had no problem with the donation for the uniforms, as well as to help defray the cost of sending students on a trip to Washington, D.C., because it came from Rodriquez Charities – a legal entity.

For his part, Rodriquez wonders what all the fuss is about. “I think it's very small-minded,'' he said. “If you ask someone who has cancer if the money to help them is coming from a strip club, I don't think they would care.''

The principal of the school has now decided to keep the $20,000. What do you think about the school’s choice?—Bruce Trachtenberg