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Where there’s Fire, there’s smoke

By Jeff Kiger

jkiger@postbulletin.com

The lead investor behind the Rochester Fire basketball team says he’s the subject of rumors and allegations that are "bogus, untrue and unfair."

Allegations of improper business dealings involving Steve Rodriguez, the 39-year-old attorney and business consultant who launched the team earlier this year, surfaced last week and have been reported mainly in Florida newspapers. Despite the flurry of allegations, no criminal charges have been filed.

"The stories told about me are bogus, untrue and unfair," said Rodriguez, who says he has homes in Florida, Virginia and a lease option on one in Pine Island.

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The Fire, which is affiliated with the minor league American Basketball Association, is scheduled to play its first game on Nov. 9 at Mayo Civic Center. About 200 season tickets have been sold.

Ten players, including ones with semi-professional experience in the ABA and Europe, as well as recent college graduates such as Mike Kinsella of Rochester, are signed to play. Practices began this month under head coach Herb Hofer and assistant coach Dave Grimsrud.

The Fire has five local investors — Joe Powers, Al DeBoer, Hal Henderson, Joe Weis and Jim Bier. Powers and Henderson met with Rodriguez about the news reports Friday, and another meeting was scheduled for today. Powers anticipates a press conference this week that will clarify matters.

The stories are mainly about Rodriguez’s involvement in two failed private high schools — Florida Prep in Port Charlotte, Fla. and Concordia Prep in Ladysmith, Wis. The schools were focused on attracting students from around the world, most of whom played basketball.

Florida Prep closed in January 2006. Concordia, which had 60 to 70 students enrolled, lasted only five months before closing in January, at about the time Rodriguez was getting involved in the Rochester franchise.

The schools were listed as "diploma mills" in stories published by the New York Times and the Washington Post regarding unethical means being used to qualify players to compete at the collegiate level.

Rodriguez, who served as principal and head coach of the schools at different times, said his involvement has been overstated. While he did invest in and help start both schools, he did not control policy, he said.

Stories following the abrupt closing of Concordia quoted Rodriguez’s two partners, who accused him of diverting money from the school’s babk account and of forging and cashing a check. But Ladysmith, Wis., police say they investigated the matter and no charges were filed.

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Rodriguez also has invested in ABA teams in St. Paul; Rome, Ga.; and Peoria, Ill. The Fire is scheduled to play the St. Paul and Peoria teams. The Rome team won’t play this season.

To learn more, go to

Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060211/SPORTS/602110417/1006

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/11/AR2006031101546.html

http://www.rochesterfireaba.com/

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