Miami Beach’s Club Madonna faces closure over non-payment of resort taxes

A bottle of non-alcoholic beer is on display against a backdrop of Club Madonna on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in South Beach.
A bottle of non-alcoholic beer is on display against a backdrop of Club Madonna on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in South Beach.

Club Madonna in Miami Beach could face shutdown again, this time for not paying resort taxes the city says it’s owed.

The fully-nude strip joint was forced to close its doors earlier this month after police said a 13-year old danced there. The club’s owner and the city came to an agreement Monday to reopen, as long as a series of conditions were met -- such as hiring a chief compliance officer who would check dancers’ IDs.

But on the same day Madonna reopened, City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote to club owner Leroy Griffith that the business had violated city code by failing to pay resort taxes. Unlike most cities, Miami Beach collects its own tourism taxes.

In the case of Club Madonna, the city argues that the club’s sale of beverages triggers the need to pay resort taxes. The venue is only allowed to sell non-alcoholic drinks because Miami Beach’s laws prohibit the sale of alcohol at fully-nude establishments -- a point of contention between city leaders and Griffith, who has sued the city multiple times to try to overturn the ban.

Morales told the Miami Herald the club doesn’t appear to have ever paid the tax.

Richard Wolfe, an attorney for Club Madonna, said that’s because Madonna doesn’t have to.

“I can only say it’s ridiculous and it shows how punitive the city is acting. Resort taxes only have to be paid by restaurants. We have a written opinion letter from the city confirming that Club Madonna is not a restaurant and it’s not liable to pay the taxes,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe could not immediately produce the letter, saying he was working on “digging it up.”

According to the city manager’s letter, Miami Beach can’t determine how much it’s owed because the Department of Revenue won’t disclose tax information to “non-authorized parties.”

As a result, the city has asked for an accounting of all revenue generated by beverage sales from 2011- 2013, written consent to view state tax records and “the remittance of all resort taxes deemed owed to the city,” according to Morales’ letter.

The city originally gave Club Madonna until Friday to correct the issues, but has extended the deadline by two weeks, Morales said.

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