'Blow the money and have fun': Tampa Police officers spent department money on drinks, strippers and gold teeth

An internal affairs report says the officers were told they could “blow the money and have fun.”

click to enlarge The undercover cops spent approximately three hours at Gold Club, spent $421.34—but the operation yielded no new evidence. - Photo by Dave Decker
Photo by Dave Decker
The undercover cops spent approximately three hours at Gold Club, spent $421.34—but the operation yielded no new evidence.

In January of 2020, officers from the Tampa Police Department (TPD) went on what they said was going to be an undercover investigation at a Tampa strip club. After several drinks, lap dances for every officer, and spending over $400, no new evidence came up.

TPD’s Internal Affairs Unit later discovered that $300 in department funds were used to buy gold teeth for an officer.

Ultimately, the internal affairs investigation found multiple violations of police policy, which led to one officer being fired.

A report obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay cited “an alleged fake operation” at Gold Club, a strip club in East Tampa, and said that Tampa Police Sergeant Daniel Rhodes was aware of the illegitimacy of the operation. The report alleges that he told officers they could “blow the money and have fun.”

According to internal affairs, TPD’s operational plan for the Gold Club investigation said that "due to the recent prostitution and narcotics complaints inside the Gold Club, undercover officers will attempt to make a deal with the entertainers for narcotics or prostitution.”

The officers spent money on the cover charge, drinks for themselves, drinks for the dancers, drinks for the dancer's friends, shots for the bartender, a pack of cigarettes, cover charge for the "lap dance area" and one lap dance each.

The undercover cops spent approximately three hours at Gold Club, and spent $421.34—but the operation yielded no new evidence.

In an attempt to discover where supposed prostitution complaints about Gold Club came from, Kelly McLaren, Executive Director at Crime Stoppers Tampa Bay, was contacted by internal affairs. Crime Stoppers found four tips in reference to prostitution at the club from June to December of 2019.

But at the time, the tips were listed as "already known" and not passed on to TPD. Meaning, the TPD officers were not at the club based on those tips.

According to the internal affairs report, a formal investigation into Sergeant Daniel Rhodes was opened on April 28, 2020, after another investigation into policy violations by officer Joshua Jackson, who was under Rhodes’ command and was involved in the Gold Club operation.

The investigation of Jackson determined that he had stored property in his vehicle that should have been placed into police evidence. This led them to investigate what happened at the Gold Club on that night back in 2020. 

Sergeant Rhodes later claimed that his squad went to the Gold Club with the intent of gaining intelligence about a recent shooting, “and/or making felony narcotics cases.” There was a shooting in Ybor City, and Rhodes said that a person who needed to be identified may have had ties to a dancer at the Gold Club. The officers under Rhodes' supervision all later stated the intention of the operation was to locate the dancer and get information regarding the shooting subject.

However, this conflicts with the title of the operational plan for the investigation, which did not reference the shooting. The wild night at the club resulted in zero evidence that might help officers catch the Ybor shooting suspect. 

The IAU investigation also revealed that Rhodes issued Jackson $300 of police department “draw money” on August 21, 2019. On January 8, 2020, Officer Jackson used $270 of that draw money, combined with $170 of his own, to purchase custom 10-karat gold teeth. The draw was finally closed on January 8, 2020 and $30.00 returned. The IAU found that Rhodes allowed Jackson to have the draw open longer than 90 days, a violation of policy.

“Allowing an officer to use draw money to buy gold teeth was a poor supervisor decision as it was not an immediate need nor was it an item that could be used by other officers if Ofc. Jackson chose to leave the squad,” the report reads. 

Officer Jackson was fired from the squad after the investigation.

Internal affairs said that not all of the allegations made toward the officers were accurate, but after a review of all documentation provided by the Professional Standards Bureau, there was enough evidence to support violations of: Supervisor Responsibility, Failure to Comply, Departmental Policies: Intra-Division Procedure and Street Anti-Crime Expense and Informant's Fund. 

The report says that Rhodes allowed his officers to write operational plans without proper oversight and should have been more directly involved in offering guidance and direction.

“While he has the authority to delegate tasks to subordinates, he cannot delegate responsibility,” the report reads. “Undercover operations are very involved and dangerous. A supervisor must make sure all of the officers involved are on the same page regarding the operational plan…”

The punishment for Rhodes? A one day suspension, and no “shift bids,” a process whereby an officer can express interest in working an open shift, for one year.

Rhodes is still on the force as a sergeant. 

TPD issued a statement about the situation, saying, “Discovering misconduct of any of our officers is always disheartening and unacceptable and the department will not tolerate this behavior."

On Tuesday, the internal affairs report came up at a Tampa Police Department Citizen’s Review board meeting. 

"There is always a plan on the books. I do not believe our officers are going to walk into any situation blind, or put themselves at risk, or risk the public," said board member Rasheed Aquil.

Back when Rhodes was a corporal in 2013, he was accused of striking a man in the head with the gun three times, punching him in the face, making racially insensitive remarks to him, and said he was going to “plant dope” on him during a traffic stop. 

Rhodes and the other corporal who made the stop with him denied the claims. Rhodes said that he had simply “nudged” the man with his gun in the side of his head to get him to listen to his commands. The IAU found Rhodes' action to be in violation of police policy and punished him with a suspension. 

Since 2004, Rhodes has had 10 formal allegations of departmental violations sustained by internal affairs, resulting in letters of counseling and multiple suspensions. 

UPDATED: 07/28/21 2:40 p.m.: TPD initially said the night that the undercover cops went to the Gold Club was in 2019, but later corrected the date of the incident to January 5th, 2020.

Send anonymous news tips to [email protected]. Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team works tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow @cl_tampabay on Twitter.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

Scroll to read more Tampa Bay News articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]