15-minute role in gay porn film cost S. Florida cop his job

Miami HeraldJanuary 25, 2010 

Michael Verdugo's 15 minutes of porn film fame cost him his job as a Hollywood, Fla., police officer and his budding career as "Mikey V'' of HGTV's Design Star.

Verdugo is fighting to get back his police job and is preparing to sue the police department for discrimination.

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

"I don't regret it," Verdugo, 35, said of his one-time appearance at age 22 in porn, three years before he became a police officer. "It was a time in my life that I wanted to explore."

Verdugo -- billed as Jeremy Wess in Rope Rituals -- said he performed nude in the short scene, but didn't engage in hardcore sex. "It was all role-playing bondage. I was tied. I used handcuffs later on in my career."

Just after the video turned up in July 2008, Design Star uninvited Mikey V from a reunion episode. Hollywood Police put Verdugo on administrative leave with pay. An investigation followed and the department fired him in January 2009 for not disclosing on his police application that he had made the porn film. An arbitrator recently upheld the termination.

Now, Verdugo has asked his attorney, Alberto Milian, to file a civil lawsuit against Hollywood Police for wrongful termination and discrimination.

"When you're a gay cop in a paramilitary organization like law enforcement, a lot of discrimination exists," said Milian, a Coral Gables criminal defense attorney who also specializes in labor law for police officers and firefighters. "He was a damn good cop. This guy was an asset and there's no doubt his talents were very useful to the people of Hollywood."

The city denies firing Verdugo -- a onetime undercover officer -- because he is gay.

"This had nothing to do with Mike Verdugo's sexuality. It had to do with his honesty. The application process to become a police officer is very arduous," Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey said.

Hollywood Police Chief Chad Wagner determined Verdugo had not been honest on his application for omitting the porn film, Storey said, and "that was why he was let go."

Verdugo said he never gave thought to putting 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.

He believes his sexual orientation had plenty to do with his firing, that if a male cop appeared nude in a straight porn film his police buddies would be "high-fiving him in the hallway."

Verdugo said he was offered a part in a gay porn film back in 1996 at the old Copa dance club in Fort Lauderdale. He filmed Rope Rituals in San Francisco, got paid $700 and that was the end of his porn career, he said.

The brawny Verdugo, who grew up in Hialeah, near Miami, appeared during the 2008 season of Design Star. He placed fourth that season and was supposed to return for a reunion episode, but the series dropped him after the porn news broke. He now owns an interior design company, Verdugo Design Group, and a company that fixes up vacant homes, Elite Home Staging.

Verdugo said he always was openly gay in both Lauderhill and Hollywood police departments and that he even briefly dated a fellow Hollywood police officer.

His current boyfriend, Mike Silver, is a field training officer for Pembroke Pines Police.

Not many police officers are open about their sexuality, Verdugo said.

"Just a handful," he said. "They don't want to come out because they see what happened to me. It's a double-edge sword," Verdugo said. “Discrimination is still huge in the police community. It's just huge."

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