PHOENIX (AP) — At least nine people could be charged after authorities raided a Phoenix studio on Thursday that investigators say used pornography as a front for prostitution, ostensibly luring clients who want to star in their own adult films.
The Arizona Republic reports (http://bit.ly/19WL2RN) that studio owner William James Hartwell, 52, and eight women were taken into custody Thursday following the raid of the business near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Officers quickly made entry into the business, operated by New Media Studios, and immediately began escorting women out. Some wore dresses and jeans, one woman had leopard-print pajamas, and another was visibly pregnant and told officers she was weeks away from giving birth, officials said.
According to court documents, operators would check customers for sexually transmitted diseases by requiring them to drop their pants and expose themselves.
Investigators believe this was as much an attempt to screen for law-enforcement officers, who might be prohibited from exposing themselves, than it was to check for diseases.
Then a customer would meet with a woman in a private room where photos were taken. The women told clients that they made money taking photos and "whatever else happens, happens," according to records.
There is no sign outside the beige block building alluding to the business or its trade, but the company frequently placed ads in the adult-services sections of popular websites, including some posted Thursday asking for models and promoting services for new clients.
And a website affiliated with the company details the legal theory that some believed made the business legitimate.
"Most porn is constitutionally protected as free speech," the site states. "While at the studio you are paying for equipment and studio rental only and may not engage in any illegal or unsafe activities. ... If you come to make amateur porn, you are welcome at the studio."
Police say the raid comes after a six-month investigation.
Whether the studio was making pornography or serving as a prostitution front will be the crucial question for prosecutors.
Arizona law prohibits the production and sale of obscene material, but proving a violation of obscenity statutes typically requires proof that someone ran afoul of community standards with material that had no legal, artistic or scientific value.
Investigators said Hartwell told an arresting officer that he was not surprised police showed up at his company's door. "We've been expecting you guys for a long time," Hartwell said as he was escorted to a police car. "We run a safe, legal business."
It was unclear if he had an attorney.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com