As Miami Beach Cracks Down on Human Trafficking, Strip Club Owner Says He's Unfairly Targeted

In early 2014 all of Miami was horrified by the story of "D.J.", a local 13-year-old runaway who was held against her will and forced into prostitution and exotic dancing at Club Madonna in South Beach.

See also: Three Arrested in Miami-Dade for Forcing 13-Year-Old Into Prostitution, Stripping at Club Madonna

Miami Beach officials, of course, were also outraged. The club was shut down for six months, and as part of its agreement to reopen, new regulations were established requiring the club to maintain stricter records and ensure that a manager is accountable at all times for dancers' legal working status.

Commissioner Ed Tobin, who recently made a bid to become a uniformed beat cop, took the lead: In the wake of the scandal fallout, he sponsored an ordinance codifying the new regulations that place "the burden on the club to check for identification and keep logs on employees", with stiff financial penalties for even a first offense. The ordinance passed a second reading last month; at today's commission meeting, new amendments are proposed to further strengthen the regulations, including "compensation requirements" and explicit prohibitions on pimping dancers.

After the underage dancer fallout, Tobin told New Times, he was upset at the lack of accountability on the part of the club. "Everyone was sort of like, 'It's not my job,'" he said. The new regulations ensure that someone is responsible on every shift -- "the buck's going to stop with that person."

Tobin sees the effort as a crackdown on human trafficking, and he expects today's proposed amendments to also pass easily. "It's like baseball and apple pie," he said. "I don't imagine anyone would be against it."

But Leroy Griffith, the longtime owner of Club Madonna -- Miami Beach's only strip club -- says he's being unfairly targeted. Griffith believes in the goal of cracking down on underage dancing, of course, but thinks the law -- and potential fines -- should also apply to nightclubs and any other establishments geared toward similar entertainment, not just strip clubs.

"I think it's a political thing with the city," he said of the ordinance. "I've been suing the city for 10 years over a liquor license."

Griffith, who says he was away on a cruise when the underage girl was caught dancing, added that his club has actually long been in compliance with the id-verification regulations.

"I'm doing it. I've been doing it for 20 years. And I'll keep doing it," he said.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Trevor Bach