Los Angeles, California – When the text arrived to my phone, I thought the offer I was receiving was a gift from God, himself. A man named Luis Rodriguez, who is the founder of the Zephyrus Foundation, an alleged homeless shelter in Davenport, Florida, was offering to buy me a Greyhound ticket out of California and offering me a job at his shelter.
My background in .orgs is extensive, having funded, developed, and run several organizations, over the course of my career, from providing funding to We Will Survive Cancer, an organization which buys Christmas presents for cancer survivors and their families, to proposing and funding Dignity Station, a community art program for homeless and disabled, in Barstow, California.
I am also the founder of SuperfundResearch.org, an experimental not-for-profit LLC business model, an organization dedicated to investigating and exposing cancer clusters, exposing corruption surrounding the redevelopment of still polluted Superfund toxic waste sites, among other environmental-based causes.
We were the first organization to blow the whistle on corruption at the Region 5 US EPA that later led to the Flint Water Crisis. Most recently, our toxic waste education organization was published in the Roanoke Times for exposing what is now being called the Largest Embezzlement Scheme in Virginia History, where 19 officials have been charged with complicity in embezzling over $21 million dollars from the citizens of Warren County Virginia.
However, recently after years and years of tireless giving, my generosity caught up with me. As no good deed goes unpunished, I’ve ended up homeless, now one of the struggling victims of the societal disease that I’d hoped to cure, with my charitable efforts.
As the devil often does, Luis approached me with an unbelievable offer. He told me that he would buy me a Greyhound ticket, transport me from Los Angeles, California, where I would work for his foundation and be provided a private room in what he called a high-end condominium; swimming pool, hot tub, BBQ patio, and even a tennis court.
After all, what homeless person wouldn’t want to be lifted from the war zone of homeless madness that is Los Angeles? In recent months, the battles have escalated. One homeless man had gasoline poured on him and was set on fire, as he slept. Another homeless man retaliated by dumping a hot bucket of diarrhea on a woman who was crossing the street, on Hollywood Blvd.
Luis told me that when I arrived, I would have a 30-day cooling-off period and then I would go to work in his organization’s phone room, for $9 an hour. After he learned of my experience with .orgs, he changed his offer and said he was hiring me to be his grant writer. I was to receive a commission on any grants that I would be able to procure, standard procedure in the grant writing industry, plus an hourly wage.
Luis’ offer was like a gift from the heavens. Finally, my seemingly endless nightmare was over.
Something Seemed Off
I have a pretty good set of bullshit detector receptors in my brain. As the day wore on, I thought about his offer. I decided to ask him some questions about the structure of his organization, especially since I was going to be writing grants. There is no point in working for a .org and seeking out grant funding if they do not have their organization within state and federal compliance.
I learned that his foundation still has six months to go before it is certified as a legitimate 501(c)(3) and that he did not have fiscal sponsorship, something that is required of .orgs within the first year of operation, to be able to receive donations.
In fact, I learned that Luis seemed to know very little about organizational structure and appeared to be flying by the seat of his pants.
I asked him more about how his phone room operated. He told me that all residents of his shelter came to work for his company, an unnamed organization, which provides telephone support for cable companies.
He stated that the phone room was not a part of his non-profit but that it is a for-profit business. I started to understand that what is really happening is that Luis is not so much helping homeless people but is using them as indentured servants, funding his entire life off the backs of the broken and bruised homeless citizens of California.
According to Luis, these homeless people are able to generate $80,000 a year, in profit, as he pays them at wages below the federal poverty level, just $14,000 a year. He stated that his shelter has 4 beds, but one of them is empty. At $14,000 a year, times three, this is $42,000 paid out to his workers. Rodriguez then collects the remaining $38,000 for himself.
He told me that he owns a .25 acre plot of land. Using the grant money I was going to acquire, he planned to build a 100-bed shelter out of modular homes. Luis was starting to seem less like a good man and more like a guy who has big money-making plans and all he needs is 100 homeless people as employees.
With a one-hundred person phone room, he’d be able to secure much larger phone support contracts, amounts in the millions of dollars.
I’d initially wondered if Orlando – the nearest major city to Davenport – has such a large homelessness population, why is he luring people from California? It occurred to me that if he drew people in, from his own state, that they may have family and people they could reach out to for help. Securing his workforce from 3,000 miles away would ensure maximum isolation and minimize his liabilities.
The Greyhound Bus Ticket Scheme
Luis told me that he’d been exclusively bringing people from California, using the Greyhound fund, billing transportation costs to the State of California.
Luis later said that he is using the San Francisco Greyhound fund, called the Homeward Bound program, which their website says Through the Homeward Bound Program, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing can provide you with a bus ticket home if you are homeless/low income and living in San Francisco and have family or friends at the destination that Homeward Bound staff can verify as willing and able to provide you a place to stay and ongoing support.
When Luis made this offer, he did not disclose that by using this program that I could permanently lose access to social services, in the State of California. If I had taken his offer, got back on my feet and returned to LA – which was always the plan – I would have been shocked to learn, if I ever got in a bad situation again, that Luis’ actions could have made it so that I could never get help again, in California.
I was also not in San Francisco when he offered for me to use this program. When questioned about this, he said, “If the homeless people I am helping me consider me a friend for offering their help, then that’s their choice. They are the ones who make the choice of who is a friend and who is not. If they tell the people a friend is helping them in Florida, then they get a bus ticket to Florida. If these people decide to live in San Francisco for a week just to get a ticket, that is their choice.”
While Luis denies any abuse of the fund, it’s obvious that he is directing homeless people to this program, encouraging them to game the system, and providing confirmation to the program that he is a friend or family member.
Comes the Blind Fury
After careful consideration, I told him I would accept his offer and take the Greyhound ticket but refused to use the Greyhound fund.
He asked me to allow him to do a background check and drug screen before he bought me the ticket. I was fine with this. I have nothing but a bunch of old misdemeanor charges from my 20’s. I’m 43. I also don’t use drugs.
This is when he asked me to send him a photo of my birth certificate. I told him I was uncomfortable with this because it would create a digital copy of my birth record and could lead to identity theft if his phone or e-mail provider experienced a data breach.
Instead, I offered to allow him to call an organization in Santa Barbara, where they had just met me and confirmed my identity. They’d provided me with a letter stating that I am a resident of the State of California. This is when Luis snapped.
He started sending me hundreds of text messages accusing me of being a fraud. Rodriguez claimed he’d called the .org in California and they denied they had written the letter. He then told me that due to “the fraudulent use of the letter” that he’d gotten me blacklisted from the .org in Santa Barbara.
He told me that he had reported me to the police and FBI, that I was going to jail for trying to con him. His behavior was intense, abusive, and completely disturbing. That an alleged director of a homelessness organization would start contacting other .orgs, to cut me off from access to services I need to get off the street, was very scary.
My God What Madness Have I Unleashed?
Over the next 24 hours, he continued to send me abusive and harassing messages, telling me I am a nothing and a nobody, bragging to me that he owned a house and I was homeless, as I repeatedly asked him to stop contacting me. He continued to tell me he could not confirm my identity that I was going to be arrested as I sat in the street, starving, covered in dirt.
Curious to see if he had really called the organization in Santa Barbara, I called them. I learned that he’d spoken with a man named Brian, the man who had confirmed my identity, the day before and that this entire time, he’d actually confirmed who I am, making his actions even more disturbing.
He knew who I was. He knew he was speaking with the real me. In spite of this, he continued to claim he could not confirm my identity. Luis used that as justification to hurl his psychotic abuse, something he is still doing, even as I type this article.
Somewhere along the way, I included several local officials, news media, and a special agent at the FBI Orlando office, in the e-mail chain, only to be met with him writing back to all of them, making completely false allegations about me, telling them my career was a fraud, that I was just a pest that was bothering them all and that they should just block me.
He told me that I was a joke, that they were all laughing at me, that he was showing my texts to all the of the residents and they were posting them all over Facebook, to bully me. He then went onto Craigslist and posted ads warning people not to help me, telling them I was a con man and a scammer and to beware.
Not to be outshone by his own craziness, he actually used an internet service to create several fake text message numbers. He started texting me from these numbers, purporting to be a person who had seen my ad asking for help, only to then tell me, “I saw on craigslist that you are a scammer and I will not help you.” It was easy to tell it was him because he was repeating statements directly from his personal text messages he’d been sending me for the last 48 hours.
Brian said, “Man, you dodged a bullet on that one, just block him.” Finally, I told Luis to stop messaging me and I blocked his number.
All Is Well That Ends Poorly, Apparently
This morning, I woke up to e-mail messages from Luis, who by this point was obviously experiencing some sort of severe mental breakdown, with all of the officials, media, and FBI CC’d, laughing at me, mocking me, telling me that one of is resident’s dogs had read my texts and was alarmed.
When I questioned him about this, he said, “I don’t speak dog but if someone tells me their dog is scared then their dog is scared.”
Now, I admit that I am known as being a crazy, gonzo-ish, immersion journalist and a loud, brash, public figure, but this guy takes the cake, the bakery and the whole god damn block where it’s located. Even while I am homeless and struggling to survive, this guy makes me look like the most stable, sane, and level headed human being on the planet.
Because it was a three-day Greyhound ride, I understand that if I had taken his offer, I would be getting off the bus, tomorrow morning, where I would be trapped in Florida, have no way to get out there, as I was subject to the kinds of abuse I can only imagine.
The bottom line is that this man is scouring the California homeless population, seeking out his next victim, planning on luring them to his home, where they will become enslaved under his watchful yet decidedly sociopathic eye. All I can say now is that I am only glad I caught onto this guy before I got on that bus, because who knows what would have happened to me if I had made the trip to Florida.
As I completed this article, my phone dinged again, with a seven-word message,“You’re nothing but a pathetic homeless person.”
Any homeless person who is contacted by Luis is encouraged to immediately block him and report his message to the FBI IC3’s Internet Crimes Division.