A Club Madonna attorney says it’s business as usual again at the strip club – albeit with new improved procedures in place – after the business was temporarily shut down following allegations involving an underaged dancer.
The Miami Beach club opened its doors to NBC 6’s cameras for the first time since three people were arrested on human trafficking charges after authorities said they forced a 13-year-old runaway girl to dance there and give them her earnings. One of the defendants, 22-year-old Marlene San Vincente, was a dancer at Club Madonna on and off for two years, attorney Richard Wolfe has said previously. Club owner Leroy Griffith has said he had no idea the girl had been forced to dance there.
The defendants – which include a fourth person who was later arrested on human trafficking charges – forced the girl into prostitution for their personal gain, according to authorities. Only San Vicente worked at the club.
Miami Beach city’s manager revoked Club Madonna’s business license, calling the illegal activity there a danger to public health. But the club reopened after reaching a settlement with the city.
Court documents obtained by NBC 6 state that on several occasions the 13-year-old girl found stripping inside Club Madonna made hundreds of dollars and was forced to turn it over to her alleged pimps. The incident left the strip joint in hot water, forcing it to make some serious changes about screening who performs on stage.
"Club Madonna is open,” Wolfe told NBC 6 in an interview this week. “Business as usual, with a few new, improved procedures.”
Hours before opening on a recent night the club was quiet – but it was expected to get busy for dozens of strippers looking to entertain both tourists and locals.
"The club is doing everything that it can to ensure the highest degree of efficiency and to make sure that never anyone under 18 will work here,” Wolfe said.
That guarantee comes a little more than a month after the allegations involving the 13-year-old girl. Wolfe cited the club’s long-term record, however.
"This club has operated for close to 40 years and at no time has anyone ever claimed that a minor was allowed to work here,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe says the club had no reason to believe the girl was a minor because on Facebook she portrayed herself to be of age – specifically 18 years old. The profile is part of the FBI's investigation. The images were obtained by NBC 6, which is hiding the girl’s face and other identifying information because she is a minor.
"This was a one-time mistake,” Wolfe said. “Mistakes happen and we're making sure that it cannot happen."
The girl’s posts, pics and even her Facebook name are sexually suggestive. But some would argue that the provocative profile tone is just part of the victimization. And the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office says it is confident in the facts alleged and maintains the girl is a minor.
"There is no reason for them to suspect, worry that there’s ever gonna be an instance where there's gonna be a minor that's gonna be allowed to come into the club and dance,” Wolfe said.
Following its settlement with the city, Club Madonna says it has the most highly efficient, foolproof age-verification system in the industry. The business now has a compliance officer and managers are trained to identify minors.
"We have sign-in sheets,” Wolfe said. “So every day, each worker (that) comes in they're gonna sign the sign-in sheet and every day they're gonna give two forms of ID. Even if they've been here for 20 years and they're known by the manager, every time they walk through the door, two forms of ID.”
No criminal charges have been filed against Club Madonna but legal trouble is still possible because the State Attorney's Office says it is still gathering all evidence in the case.
Club Madonna now also faces a claim by the girl, who is now seeking millions of dollars for personal infliction of emotional pain. Club Madonna says she is lying to create a claim that does not exist.