A Shakey Machine

FIU hoops coach Shakey Rodriguez has surrounded himself with coaches and players with bad raps and worse reps -- and it's a losing combination

When Rodriguez left Miami High for FIU in 1995, Wright stayed with the program as an assistant to Rodriguez's successor, Frank Martin. Wright was on the coaching staff of the Miami High team that lost its 1998 championship because of recruitment violations.

Wright denies ever having actively recruited students. "Kids love a winner, and they want to go where they can attract major-college attention," Wright says. He adds that he and other assistant coaches actually spent time turning away the legions of wannabe Stingarees.

He left his part-time coaching gig and his full-time job in 1998. Beginning in 1981 Bernard Wright had worked off and on in various capacities for the Florida State Department of Children & Families (DCF), formerly known as the department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. His record there is marred by numerous reprimands for things such as absences without leave, insubordination, and poor management of his case load. By 1998 his primary responsibility was to monitor child abuse; but in one instance, his work was, at the admission of his superiors, shoddy at best.

Shakey Rodriguez has led his team through what he calls his most difficult year in coaching
Steve Satterwhite
Shakey Rodriguez has led his team through what he calls his most difficult year in coaching

Her name was Ashley Smithson. On September 3, 1998, her mother's boyfriend allegedly beat her at the breakfast table. She died a month later. She was three years old. Even though Wright had resigned from DCF in June, he had in March allowed Ashley to be sent back to the home where she would eventually receive the fatal beating. The then-administrator of DCF in Miami, Anita Bock, publicly criticized Wright's handling of the case. Wright points out that other caseworkers took it over case after his resignation. "I diligently carried out my duties in that case," he asserts.

By that time Shakey Rodriguez already had hired Wright as the third assistant coach at FIU.

Bernard Wright in particular, and DCF in general, were among the many public assistance entities that failed to protect Ashley Smithson. But FIU could have done a much better job of protecting itself from Bernard Wright.

In addition to the 1999 stolen-tag beef, another misdemeanor charge has to do with Wright's other source of income. In November 1993, shortly after he had joined Rodriguez's staff at Miami High, Wright and two partners formed a corporation called Triple Dollars, Inc. Slightly more than two years later, this firm made a major purchase: a two-story building at 4368 NW Seventeenth Ave. The building cost them $60,000 in February 1996, and they've owned it ever since.

It's a package liquor store and lounge, a garish green edifice that often features a handful of patrons seated along an outside wall on plastic chairs and milk crates, sipping beers out of paper bags. The name is spelled out in illuminated red letters across the top: Three Fingers Lounge. Shakey Rodriguez knows about his assistant coach's small-business venture, but says he's never been to the lounge (which stands eight blocks north of Miami Jackson Senior High School).

He's missing plenty of excitement. Within the past year, Miami police have responded to that address 63 times, making a total of 45 arrests, according to dispatch records. One call was for a drive-by shooting, an incident that police told the Miami Herald was drug related. Another call led to misdemeanor charge number two on Bernard Wright's record: "Limitation on Adult Entertainment or Adult Service Establishment" and "Doing Business Without an Adult Entertainment License."

"While checking [Three Fingers] lounge ref. complaint of females providing nude entertainment for paying customers, [undercover] officers entered establishment and observed two nude females dancing on stage," Miami police wrote on June 23, 1999. "As take down units entered establishment, ten females were observed walking around the bar nude. [A sergeant] contacted owner [defendant] Wright (blue shirt & pants) and asked to see license for exotic female entertainment. Owner was unable to produce license."

Wright says he and his partners had applied for the license, but didn't have it in hand in time for that evening's festivities. On October 26, 1999, the state dropped the charges against Wright and his partners after they donated $500 to Kristi House, a charity for abused children.

FIU vice president Paul Gallagher says he had no idea that Wright has a record. His reaction? "It doesn't make me happy."

"Lucas Barnes," intones Judge Bertila Soto. "Do I have Mr. Barnes here?" She waits for a few seconds. No one in the domestic-violence courtroom on the second floor of the Courthouse Center building in downtown Miami answers her call.

"State, call your case. Mr. Barnes is not here."

"Victim is present, three out of the four officers are present," an assistant state attorney responds.

"Bench warrant, $10,000," Soto declares, then moves on to the next case on her February 9, 2000 docket.

Though recent stories have portrayed FIU small forward Lucas Barnes's criminal problems a thing of the past, that is simply not true. While Barnes was a sophomore at the University of Miami and a starter for the Hurricanes, his ex-girlfriend Ebony Livingston accused him of hitting and threatening her in January 1998. No charges were filed, but UM coach Leonard Hamilton suspended Barnes indefinitely on January 22. On February 5 Barnes quit the team and withdrew from school.

On March 13, 1998, another woman, Katherine Ann Barton, came into the Doral station of Miami-Dade Police to report that Barnes had beaten her. Barton told police that "herself and [Barnes] were involved in a verbal altercation when [Barnes] proceeded to choke her, punch her, and when she managed to escape his grasp while she was running to the door, [Barnes] kicked her in the back." She called police the next day to tell them Barnes was returning to her apartment; they met him there and arrested him on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge.

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