Division Street between 19th and 20th avenues is much like any other block on the perimeter of Music Row: a mix of offices, businesses and residences. Cracking sidewalks run past new buildings and renovated houses, as mature trees drape their branches overhead.
It’s 10 o’clock on Monday night, May 6. Most of the businesses on the street are closed, save for Armo’s Body Shop, at 1907 Division, where a few well-buffed young men take advantage of the 24-hour gym. The only sound breaking the quiet is the metallic clank of weights audible through Armo’s open windows.
Viewed from the sidewalk, the building next door, at 1909 Division St., is a cream-colored two-story brick edifice, its front porch enclosed in wood paneling. The paint is peeling, the blinds on the front windows are closed, and on one side of the building, the windows are boarded up. A small neon sign declares the building open, while another sign directs visitors to the rear entrance. There is nothing particularly noticeable about this place but for one thing: 4-foot-tall, garishly colored neon letters hanging on the front of the building that spell the words “Private Dancer.”
Because it is located within a zoning district dubbed the Adult Entertainment Overlay, Private Dancer is legally permitted to present totally nude dancing, just like the other strip clubs nearby: Déjà Vu, Christie’s, Brass Stables, Al’s Showplace, The Executive Club, Club Platinum, Showtime and Ken’s Gold Club. But a recent police investigation has indicated that more than lap dancing is taking place here.
On this May night, six dancers are on duty. Shortly before 11 p.m., a clean-cut, casually dressed man steps onto the back porch, in view of one of several surveillance cameras on the premises. He pushes the buzzer, and one of the young women inside opens the door. As he enters, she sees over his shoulder a group of men, all wearing bulletproof vests with large fluorescent block letters reading either “Vice” or “Police.” As they advance to the back steps, one of them announces that they are in possession of a search warrant and are entering the building.
The woman turns to the man who has rung the buzzer. “Mister, you need to get out of here. It’s the police!”
“Ma’am,” he says politely as he continues through the door, “I am the police.”
Immediately behind him are vice Sgt. Rob Forrest and three vice detectives, the core of the team that for the past several months has been conducting an investigation into Nashville’s prolific and very profitable prostitution industry. With them are a half-dozen other officers called in to assist in executing the search warrant, questioning employees and customers, making arrests and seizing property.
Moving quickly down the dark, narrow hallway, the vice detectives knock loudly on the closed doors that line the hall, shouting, “Police! Open the door!” If the doors are not immediately opened, the detectives push or kick them open. Using Polaroid Instamatics and digital cameras, they quickly snap photos of the activity taking place in the small, darkened rooms.
This scene has taken place repeatedly in the past few months, as Nashville’s police department has conducted a crackdown on prostitution in the city’s many adult-oriented businesses.
It has been a massive undertaking, as anyone who’s ever driven up or down Eighth Avenue South might guess. Tucked between the office buildings, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants and service stations along this well-traveled thoroughfare wereuntil recentlysome of Nashville’s most enduring enterprises: Tokyo Sauna, Cleopatra’s Palace and Dottie’ssquat, inconspicuous buildings marked by small signs that gave little indication as to what type of exchange might be conducted there. They were so much a part of the landscape that most drivers barely gave them a second glance.
They were also just three of nearly 20 such establishments that found a home on or near Eighth Avenue, including Christie’s Cabaret, Showtime Showclub, Miko’s, Tiara’s Showbar, Club Unique, Rainbow Sauna, Mister V’s Gentleman’s Club, Menages, Southern Vibe XXX Bookstore, Odyssey Club, The Whirlpool Center, 1203 Secrets, Kimono, Kathy’s, Desiree and, finally, Sunny’s, located in a former motel in the Melrose area.
All of these establishments were ostensibly adult businesses“bookstores” and “spas” offering pornographic magazines and videos, sex toys and nude dancing. But it has long been rumored, if not flat-out understood, that they also offered sex for money. Within the adult entertainment industry, it was widely acknowledged that Nashvillethe Athens of the South, the Buckle of the Bible Beltboasted a national reputation as a thriving, freewheeling, anything goes, sex-for-sale supercenter. Two free publications, Nashville Times and Xtreme Nights, were devoted entirely to the adult entertainment business. The February 2002 issue of Nashville Times boasted 36 color pages of ads for strip clubs, escort services, spas, phone sex, swingers’ clubs and retail stores.
Early this year, after decades of looking the other way, the Metro Law Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Metro Police Department teamed up with the intent of identifying, pursuing and prosecuting purveyors of prostitution. They specifically targeted the massage parlors, sometimes known as “whirlpool baths” and “modeling studios.” In recent years, these businesses had spread like kudzu through all parts of the city, operating as openly as their more legitimate neighbors.
In February 2002, using Nashville Times and other sources, Metro Police’s vice division compiled a list of 32 adult establishments that it suspected of promoting or providing prostitution. It began an investigation that would ultimately result in the closing of all 32 of those businesses, the arrest of nearly 100 people and the seizure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, property and assets. The MNPD vice division would end up mowing through Nashville’s sex industry like Eliot Ness through Chicago bootleggers during Prohibition.
When the vice division made entry at Private Dancer on May 6, three of the six women on duty were “in session” with customers. All three were naked, but they were not dancing. When the door to the first room was opened, one of the dancers was performing manual sex on a man sitting back in a low-slung chair with his neatly pressed Dockers laid to one side. After their pictures were snapped, the women were told to get dressed and then taken to another room in the building where the other dancers were being detained.
The customers were also told to get dressed, but directed to stay in their respective rooms. One detective walked past the first room and caught the man with the Dockers trying to put his cash payment, which the woman had tucked under a condom on a small table, back into the pocket of his khakis. The detective told him to put the evidence back on the table. “Can you believe that guy?” he said, shaking his head. “He’s just been busted, we’ve got photos and he’s trying to take his money back.”
The police spent the next five hours at Private Dancer, dismantling the extensive surveillance system, unplugging computers and taking down signs. They searched offices, the employee lounge and personal lockers; they broke open padlocked closets and combed through record books and customer logs. One officer cleared a table in the reception area for a makeshift desk, plugging in his laptop computer and printer. Everything that the squad would take out of the businesscondoms (used and unused), sex toys, multipacks of Bounty paper towels, baby lotion, electronics, XXX-rated videos, employee applications, clothing, furnishings and moneywas logged into the computer and a receipt was printed for the owners of the confiscated property.
Seized from Private Dancer that evening was $4,100 in cash. According to the daily log kept by the operator, there had been 44 sessions so far that day. The customers who were caught were questioned, then issued arrest citations for patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor. The women were individually questioned, and, if warranted, they received arrest citations for prostitution, also a misdemeanor. If the owner/operator of the business had been on site, he or she would also have been questioned.
But neither the owners of the business nor the owners of the property were on site that night. According to the women on duty, just before the officers entered the property, the operator of Private Dancer, Kenneth Cooper (who, with his wife, Sandra, is a member of S&C Productions LLC, which owns the business license for Private Dancer), left to get something to eata bit of lucky timing. The police and the women alike believe he was tipped off.
The raid on Private Dancer was the second of the night; at around 6 o’clock, the same team had raided Bliss, a “body spa” on Omohundro Drive in the Fesslers Lane arealocated well outside of the Adult Entertainment Overlay.
There were three women on duty at Bliss when the officers made entry; they were also alone that night, with no other businesses open nearby on the dark, industrial road. One of the women was in a session, nude from the waist up, with a customer who was completely nude. The women received arrest citations for prostitution; the operator and owner of the business, Anthony B. Bailey Sr., who arrived by taxi after receiving a phone call that the raid was taking place, was questioned. Seized from Bliss were $1,350 in cash, computers, surveillance equipment and prostitution paraphernalia.
The raids on Bliss and Private Dancer could hardly have come as much of a surprise to Bailey, the Coopers and their employees. By that time, Metro had openly been on its crusade for two months. But it’s also very possible that the owners thought they would somehow escape the authorities’ grip. After all, the city had for decades maintained a tradition of looking the other way. A recent ad for Dottie’s stated that it had been in business for more 25 years. And it is believed that Tokyo Sauna and Cleopatra’s Palacenearly neighbors on Eighth Avenue, not far from the Wedgewood intersectionhad been in continuous operation the longest, about 30 years.
“We have to assume that if we don’t get a complaint on it, it is operating legally,” says Jim Cantrell, an inspector with the Metro Codes Administration, the department that issues building permits and makes inspections before a business is allowed to open. “My personal perception is that many of these businesses have always operated as houses of prostitution. But [codes is] not here to regulate prostitution[we] do buildings, not people.”
Some businesses had set up shop more recently, partly in response to Nashville’s laissez-faire position on prostitution, and partly as a result of crackdowns in other, nearby cities such as Memphis, Knoxville and New Orleans. “There has been a huge increase in these businesses in the last few years,” says Sgt. Forrest. “When other cities crack down, the women often move on to find work. There were a few places here that were doing well, and they figured they would do well too. They had all gotten much more blatant in their advertising and operations.”
Somethough not allof these businesses were situated within the Adult Entertainment Overlay (AEO), an area that was mapped out in the late ’70s. According to Sonny West, director of codes, this was in response to a Supreme Court ruling that had its origins in Detroit and attempted to regulate adult businesses. From that case came two methods of control: concentration or dispersal. “We took the Supreme Court decision and made a hybrid,” says West. “We decided to concentrate them downtown. There was very little residential development there at that time, and that is where visitors and conventioneers go, and they seem to like that type of business.
“But we also attempted to disperse them by putting distance laws in place: They had to be a certain distance from a school, park, church or residence, and a certain distance from other adult businesses.”
Over the years, with downtown redevelopment, there has been increasingly less property where adult businesses can legally operate. A February 2002 map of the AEO is a jumble of lines, circles and color-coding. Even though some of the recently raided adult businesses were within the overlay, they were in violation of distance laws, which require that one sexually oriented business be at least 150 feet from another.
Others, such as Bliss, were far outside the overlay and had applied for business licenses as something other than an adult businessa fitness center, game room or tanning salon. Even lingerie modeling studios are permitted outside of the overlay, as long as there is no nudity on the premises. “When they come for a building permit or a Use & Occupancy permit,” explains West, “we have to take them at their word. We come out and look at the building, we make an inspection, make sure there are no bedrooms, no beds.”
But that approach clearly has had little effect. When he first inspected Kimono, one of the largest of the “relaxation centers” outside the AEO, Cantrell says there was nothing to indicate that it would be operating a house of prostitution. “When we first inspected, there were no bedrooms, not much of anything in there. When we went back to execute the search warrant, the place was full of beds and bedrooms.”
No matter where it takes place, “Prostitution is illegal,” says Karl Dean, Metro’s law director. “No district allows it.”
In the past, both the police department and the codes administration responded primarily to citizen complaints about such activity. Investigations were conducted, businesses were closed down and arrest citations were issued, but typically, the businesses would almost immediately reopen, sometimes under a different name or new owners.
But recently, after a series of investigations, the vice division had determined that prostitution was taking place at several adult-oriented businessesand it decided to take action.
So late last year and early this year, Metro police, with the assistance of codes and the Metro Law Department, managed to shut down two adult-oriented businesses on the east side of townApple Annie’s on Dickerson Road and Catwalk on Gallatin Road. The success in shutting down those businesses was the catalyst for what has become the most comprehensive investigation into the prostitution trade in Nashville, one unprecedented in the tenure of the four vice detectives most actively involved.
“For years, a blind eye was turned to this business,” Dean says, taking pains to point out that “this is not a moral crusade; we are not out to end the adult entertainment industry in Nashville. Those places have a right to operate, as long as they are doing so legally and within zoned areas. The target of this activity is prostitution, whether it occurs in a strip club or a Laundromat.”
After the shutdown of Apple Annie’s and Catwalk, a decision was reached to team Metro’s legal, police and codes departments in an ongoing, mutually supportive arrangement. The first of the 32 to be targeted was the largest: the First Amendment Adult Bookstore, owned by notorious Nashville sex industry mogul Al Woods. Although First Amendment advertised itself as an adult bookstore, its primary operation was determined to be a house of prostitution. Court papers filed by the Metro Law Office contain six affidavits filed by vice detectives detailing incidences of prostitution in the store. Male customers, browsing the aisles, were approached by women or, in some cases, by “trannys,” men dressed as women. These workers were regarded as “independent contractors” by the store, and they would offer sessions in one of the store’s private rooms, suggesting the customer first purchase an X-rated movie or sex toy to enhance the experience.
“Typically, we send in an undercover officer or confidential informant more than one time to be sure there is consistent evidence of illegal activity,” says Forrest. “We don’t want the owner of the business to be able to say that it was just one bad employee, or one incident. We want to take that defense away.”
Between Feb. 21 and March 11, working with undercover officers, the police department documented five incidents of solicitation for prostitution at First Amendment. On March 11, after a search warrant was obtained, an undercover detective entered the store and reached an agreement with an employee for a session including sexual acts. (The undercover officers never actually engage in sex with the women.) Once the agreement was made, other detectives and officers entered the building to execute the search warrant. Used and unused condoms, sex toys, adult videos, lotions and lubricants were all seized during the search.
Employees interviewed by police explained pricing for the various sessions and how much money was given to the house. One of the employees, a man who dresses as a woman and uses the name Gia, told officers she charged customers $100 for a session; she kept $50 and gave $50 to the business.
When questioned by officers, owner Al Woods told them that he made $10 for each dance employees performed and $50 for each time a customer viewed a video. He stated that acts of prostitution could not occur in the private rooms because the store’s clerkthe same clerk who had earlier told police that he assumed females were engaging in acts of prostitutionmonitored the activity.
Gia was born Jessie Vasseur 21 years ago. As a small child, he was usually mistaken for a girl, and once he entered school, he says, his life became unmitigated hellso hellish that at 16 years old, he dropped out of school and moved, with no job and no money, to New Orleans.
“I knew people who knew people, and I couch-surfed for a few weeks, until I met a guy on the street who told me I could work the clubs, but that my body needed work. So I got silicone, grew my hair, did all that stuff, began living as a woman and started working strip clubs. I was a pole mistress. I didn’t really consider it the sex industry; to me it was the entertainment industry. I was having sex for money when I had to, but mostly I just tried to get customers so drunk they would pass out so I wouldn’t have to do them.
“About three years ago, things got hot in New Orleans and I had to leave town, so I came to Nashville, where I had friends, and my mother lives close. I checked out Cleopatra’s and Kathy’s, but they were so nasty there was no way I would work there. So I worked for an escort service, Absolutely the Best, but I had a disagreement with the woman working the phone lines, so I left. I heard about the First Amendment Bookstore through a friend. She recommended me to the dance manager, and I got the job.
“We had to sign papers saying we are not police informants, that we understand the rules: do not leave with customers, do not have sex with customers, do not bring in drugs, do not take off your bra or G-string. But we all knew the score. No one was in there shopping for books. They were there for us, or for the token booths. Al never saw us actually do it. And he did not have any contact with us. But he knew about it, common sense would tell you that.
“Some nights, before the crackdown, there would be 10 to 15 dancers on duty, and everybody made money. Some nights it was so busy, there would be five men lined up outside the door to my room. But it was well-organized, and there was enough money for everybody, so we all got along.
“The day we got busted, I wasn’t even working. I was on my way to a photo session and had stopped by just to say hello. All of a sudden, it was like someone kicked a beehive; there were cops everywhere. I get panic attacks, and when one of the cops saw that I was in a bad way, he was really nice and talked to me until I got it back together again. They lined us all up, seized everything, questioned us, wrote us up. I was just thinking about how much money I was losing by not getting to the photo session. And what the fuck was I going to do.”
After the raid on First Amendment Adult Bookstore, the hits kept on coming: On March 13, vice executed a search warrant on Pink Flamingo Modeling Studio on Drexel Street. Later that same day, police simultaneously raided International Fantasy’s Gentleman’s Club and Lipstix Modeling Agency, located nearly next door to one another on Fifth Avenue South. On March 14, vice raided Private Fantasy, situated in the former church on 12th Avenue North that also housed Al’s Showplace, and Total Escape Body Salon on Dickerson Road. The following week, search warrants were executed on Sunny’s in Melrose, Executive Pleasures on Third Avenue South, and Kimono, a windowless coral-stucco building near the intersection of Eighth Avenue South and Wedgewood.
On March 28, every member of the vice squad, plus additional officers on the police force, raided four businesses simultaneously: Desiree, Kathy’s and Dottie’s, all within walking distance of one another on Eighth Avenue in the Melrose area, and 1203 Secrets on Eighth, farther in toward town.
Between April 1 and 3, four more businesses were shut down, and by the time police arrived at Tokyo Sauna on the 3rd, the owners had temporarily ceased operations, hoping to avoid a search warrant. One was executed nonetheless, and Tokyo Sauna was closed. Oriental Spa, Fuji Spa and Rainbow Sauna were all the targets of search warrants on April 9; six women altogether were arrested and charged with either prostitution or promoting prostitution. Detectives had also received information that the women, all of Asian descent and none of them from Nashville, were being moved from state to state for the purpose of engaging in organized prostitution.
Then the raids came to a temporary halt. Both vice and the Metro Law Department were overwhelmed with the amount of evidence collected at the 19 businesses they’d shut down, and with the resultant paperwork required to file court papers. In the meanwhile, vice detectives, with the assistance of informants, began gathering evidence on several Nashville escort services, which turned up some of the women who had been cited for prostitution at the now closed spas and massage parlors.
The effect was clearly being felt: The February 2002 issue of Nashville Times was 36 pages, but the May issue had shrunk to half that size. Seeing the writing on the wall, eight more businesses had shut down operations before the police arrived. So it was that, on the night of May 6, Bliss and Private Dancer became the 30th and 31st of the 32 major operations identified to close their doors. On May 8, police shut down the last one, A Classic Blonde, a prostitution operation allegedly run from the apartment of 43-year-old Claire Kimbrough.
Kimbrough kept detailed records on her clients, including names, amounts charged for sex acts, the sex acts the clients preferred and even the color lingerie they liked her to wear. She told police she was keeping the information for a book that she planned to write.
When these adult businesses were thriving, they all tried to distinguish themselves from the others, advertising a unique, titillating personality that would compel visitors to choose Kathy’s over Kimono, or Private Fantasy over Gentleman’s Fantasy. They promised fun, fantasy, privacy, discretion, beauty, pampering, luxury and upscale entertainment, but truth is a rare commodity in this business. Closely inspected, from the inside out, one club is little different from another. They are marked by a numbing sameness.
There is a scent to the spasan unpleasant and distinctive mix of disinfectant, rubbing alcohol, massage oil, perfume, stale cigarette smoke, body odor and sexthat is peculiar to the business. The buildings are laid out, organized and furnished in near identical fashion, as if there were one preferred decorator specializing in sex spa design (though some establishments are cleaner or more stylishly appointed than others). Hot pink and black are the favored colors, while silk flowers and plants are standard for rooms never graced with natural light. Art consists of cheap, silver- or black-framed prints of Paris or Manhattan skylines, as if those two cities could impart some sophistication or cosmopolitan sensibility.
“None of them are great, but some were really disgusting,” says one Metro vice detective. “Total Escape Body Salon was really nastymattresses on the floor. At Tokyo Sauna, it didn’t look like the sheets had been changed in 30 years. Kimono was probably the nicest of them all, but it was also one of the newest.”
“I brought a cushion from home to sit on during my shift,” says Lola, a dancer at Pink Flamingo. “It was so dirty there. Between sessions, I would try to clean some. Most of the girls watched TV or napped. On the day we got raided, I had brought my vacuum from home because the place didn’t have one. The police were taking it away as evidence, but I started crying because it was my vacuum cleaner, and they let me keep it.”
At each of these places, there is typically a reception room, where customers view “the lineup” and pick their girl. There is an employee lounge or dressing room, where the women wait until called to a lineup or specifically requested by a customer. Usually, there is a central hall with small private rooms on either side. Many of the Asian spas are furnished with massage tables or small beds. In the modeling and lingerie studios, relaxation centers, gentleman’s clubs and dance clubs, each room has a low, upholstered love seat, a rectangular coffee table positioned in front of the chair, a pole lamp with colored bulbs and a small end table for a boom box. The women provide their own music. Though most women bring a bag or keep a locker with their own equipment and supplies, some houses also require them to pay an extra fee for cleaning supplies. Additionally, they’re expected to clean up after each customer.
For their sessions, the women require condoms, Kleenex, baby wipes, mouthwash, baby lotion and baby powder. Condoms are used nearly without exception in every type of session, though some places were known for offering, for an extra fee, oral sex without a condom.
Every girl works under a “dance” name, though some women who work two or three different clubs assume several different names. Some typical pseudonyms are Raven, Destiny, Mercedes, Autumn, Harmony, Passion, Ecstasy, Chastity, Angel, Champagne, Cherry, Candy, Chyna, Silk, Satin, Honey, Diamond, Jewel, Sapphire, Kitten, Precious, Lady and Justice.
“When I interviewed at Private Dancer,” says Sunshine, an Asian immigrant, “they asked what my stage name was, and I did not know English so well, and I did not understand. I thought they meant my nickname, so I told them the name my family called me since I was a little girl. That is the name they used for me, and it upset me very much, and made me sad every time I am with a man. I could never forget I was shaming my family.”
At the core of this business is a culture of denial that envelops and controls all involved. The owners of the property say they had no idea there was prostitution or even adult entertainment taking place in their building. The owners of the business deny employing women to service customers sexually. The dancers tell themselves that anything other than intercourse isn’t really prostitution; their boyfriends and husbands claim they thought their girlfriends and spouses were only “dancing.”
“You numb yourself,” says Trisha, a former prostitute who worked in a variety of sex-related businesses. “You don’t emotionally commit to any part of it or connect in any way. It’s a show, you’re an actress. You learn a lot about men in these places, and it isn’t pretty.”
“When I took the job, I desperately needed the money,” Lola says. “My old man had left me, I had three kids to support, the rent was due, the car payment, utilities. When I was with someone, I just thought about the money. In my mind, I was adding up how much more it would take to pay the rent, or whatever. I don’t know what they were thinking about, but that’s all I thought about: I’m halfway to paying the rent.”
After months of immersion in the local sex industry, vice officers admit to feeling sympathy for many of the women involved, while they have nothing but disdain for their male partners, the business owners and the customers.
During the raid on Private Dancer, two of the dancers’ husbands arrived with the women’s IDs. One couple had married earlier that very afternoon; the other man, who told police he was unemployed, arrived with the couple’s 11-month-old baby in the backseat. Both swore they had no idea that their wives’ “performances” included sex, and they became angry when told the women would be cited for prostitution.
The dancers scoff at the men’s claims of ignorance. “If you’re a man married to one of the girls, or living with her, and you are not working yourself, or you are living on the money she makes, what does that make you?” asks Lola. “You can call yourself a husband or a boyfriend or whatever you want, but what you are is a pimp; everybody knows that.”
After vice executed its search warrants on the adult establishments, phones would continue to ring incessantly until they were disconnected, and customers would continue to arrive, seeking sessions with dancers. About an hour after vice secured Bliss on May 6, a middle-aged man parked his black truck two spaces away from the large white police evidence truck that was backed up to the entrance. Plainclothes police officers were going in and out of the building loading the vehicle with computers, electronics, furniture and bags of evidence. Sgt. Forrest, his badge and gun clearly visible, stood on the sidewalk, a clipboard in hand. The man approached Forrest and asked if Bliss was open. Forrest said, “Sure,” and the man walked inside. In the reception area, sitting together on the sofa, were three of the female employees, obviously upset, one with a sweatshirt covering her head. A police officer in a vest, also with gun and badge, stood guard; other officers could be seen down the hall.
The police officer asked the man what he wanted. “I’d like a session,” he replied, eyeing the sullen women. The officer, still straight-faced, asked if he had any particular girl in mind. The man said no. The officer yelled down the hall, “Lenny, you’ve got a customer!” A fellow officer poked his head out a door: “Tell him to go away, I’m busy.” Only then did the man realize that all was not quite right at Bliss.
A similar scene took place later that night at Private Dancer, where nearly a dozen potential customers were turned awaybut only after they’d walked around the police evidence truck parked at the rear entrance, and down the hall, past officers, to the reception area where Forrest was overseeing evidence collection. After asking for a private dance or a session, they were informed that they had arrived in the middle of a police raid, and it might be a good idea to leave.
Many people have questioned where the women will go now that their places of employment are all shut down. There is concern that the raids will send the massage parlor employees out onto the streets, but officers say no. In late April, police arrested a number of prostitutes on Dickerson Road, and not one of the women arrested had come from a closed massage parlor. “Street prostitutes are 100 percent drug addicts,” says one officer. “That is why they are on the streets. The girls in the massage parlors are not drug addicts, and they would not lower themselves to work the streets for $10 blow jobs.”
Many massage parlor workers have moved on to another town, or another part of the countryparticularly the Asian women. “Much of the time, we found the women were actually living in the Asian places; at Miko’s, they were hardly allowed out,” one vice officer explains. “They don’t speak English, and when these places close, they don’t have many resources. They have connections in other cities and will move on to some place not so hot.”
Dottie’s employed women from out of the county who would come to Nashville and spend four or five nights staying and working here; police believe they are now working in other counties, and a recent undercover operation in Rutherford County confirmed those suspicions.
Some women have gone on to work as independent out-call girls or for escort services. One investigation turned up Gia again, working for a service that specializes in transgendered prostitutes. Following her second arrest, Gia decided she might go into the Internet sex business, where she can work from home. “It’s safer and easier,” she says, “and you can make pretty good money. You don’t even have to see your customersthat’s the best part.”
Lola, the Pink Flamingo employee, was looking for work in a restaurant. “The day we got busted was the lowest day of my life,” she says. “I was nude in a room with a man, performing sex, and all I remember is wood flying when they busted the door open, and flashes going off. It was a nightmare, I couldn’t believe it was happening, but it was a wake-up call for me. I didn’t belong there. I don’t know how I got so low. I’ll never go back to that.”
One of the Private Dancer employees, whose husband was in the service overseas when she was arrested, was simply hoping he wouldn’t find out. “He has no idea. He thinks I was working third shift in a bank. I did this before I met him, then came back here for the extra money when he shipped out. If he finds out, he will divorce me.”
Most of the owners and operators of the businesses have not yet been arrested, but their cases will soon be presented to the Davidson County Grand Jury for possible indictment. If the Grand Jury decides to indict upon hearing the evidence, the owners will be charged with promoting prostitution and, in most cases, the far more serious charge of money laundering, at which point they will be arrested and given the opportunity to make bond. Then a date will be set for trial.
None of the closed businesses can reopen without abiding by a complicated series of regulationsincluding one that states property owners must post a $20,000 performance bond guaranteeing that prostitution will not be conducted on the premises. If owners are found to be in violation, they forfeit the $20,000. If the location is situated outside of the AEO, the performance bond also guarantees that the owners will not operate any type of adult entertainment.
In April, after posting a performance bond, Al Woods reopened the First Amendment Adult Bookstore. He was permitted to open on the condition that he would submit an employment plan, allow police on the premises in public areas at any time, take down partitions between subdivisions of a room, remove walls with apertures allowing sexual activity between rooms, demolish bondage and movie rooms, and operate the business only between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight.
One of Woods’ other businesses, Al’s Showplace, is now Anthony’s Showplace; according to the manager, Woods has “retired.” Downstairs in the same building, Private Fantasy is still closed, though once the performance bond is posted, the managers claim they plan to make the former sex club into a sports barone that vice promises to keep track of.
At the other closed establishments around town, the Dumpsters out back have been emptied of torn cushions, ripped massage benches, strands of twinkle lights, dusty wicker baskets and cleaning supplies. The signs posted on the doors by codes and vice“Stop Work Order,” “Closed By Order of the Court”have been replaced by For Sale signs.
Though the police, in particular the vice division, have received commendation for their work from the Metro Law Department, the mayor, the community and businesspeople who worked near the closed establishments, many people still debate the point of it all. After all, aren’t these businesses just going to open again somewhere else? One vice officer shakes his head and responds, “What if we said that about everythingabout murder, robbery, rape, drugs? You can’t do that. You do what you can to control it, just like any other crime.”
“Closing all of those places was a major, time-consuming operation,” says Doug Sloan, an attorney in the Metro Law Department who has been closely involved in the crackdown since the beginning. “But now that they are closed, it makes it easier to keep an eye on any that do open. The police can focus on one at a time, and not 32 at once.”
In early May, the vice division followed with interest the renovations taking place on the building that had once housed 1Hana, a private dance club on Church Street. It had been one of the 32 businesses to be shut down during Metro’s operation, but had closed prior to a search warrant being executed. Now a poster on the door said, “Coming soon...mid-May 2002: Tiki Club, A Private Dance Emporium.” The property, owned by dentist Philip Van Vraken (whose Family Dentistry practice is next door) and dermatologist David Horowitz (who has an office nearby at 1900 Patterson), is located within the AEO. On May 20, Tiki Club received a Use & Occupancy permit, and could legally operate as a nude dance club, which is what it did during the first week or so it was open.
But it wasn’t long before Tiki Club stepped over the line. On three separate occasionsJune 7, 11 and 17police informants made paid arrangements with employees to perform sexual acts.
On the night of June 19, vice executed a search warrant on Tiki Club. Inside were eight dancers, three customers, one male working as “security,” the operator of the business, Sun Eun Draper, and her husband, Jerry. One of the women there had previously worked at a massage parlor called Natural Touch, while another had been on duty at Private Dancer just six weeks before when that club was raided. Officers found about $600 in cash. Because Tiki Club had just opened, all of the furnishings, accessories and electronics were brand-new. The confiscated property filled the police evidence truck to near-bursting, and then filled up the backs of four other pickup trucks. A locksmith was called to change the locks and install padlocks on front and back doors.
Because Tiki Club was the only business of its kind in operation at that moment, a steady stream of potential customers arrived during the four hours that vice was on site. As at previous raids, they walked blithely past the evidence truck, police officers, reporters and television cameras, and they stopped only when they were told by officers that the club was in the middle of a raid.
Around midnight, the last dancer was allowed to leave. Shortly thereafter, with the building completely emptied, the Drapers left by the rear door, meeting attorney John Herbison in the parking lot. Herbison had arrived nearly three hours earlier, explaining that he just happened to be driving by the club, on his way back to the office to file a brief, and wondered what all the activity meant. Herbison, who represents the property owner of one other closed clubas well as Perry March, husband of missing Nashville woman Janet Marchwould only say that he had “consulted” with the Drapers before they opened the private dance emporium.
At 12:30 a.m. on June 20, vice officers secured a padlock on the front entrance of the Tiki Club, then nailed a sign to each side of the double doors: CLOSED BY THE ORDER OF THE COURT.