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Porn studio owner to be tried on charges of running brothels

This undated photo booking by the Maricopa County Sheriff shows William James Hartwell, which is scheduled to go on trial next week on charges that his porn-production studio near Phoenix airport operated as a front for a prostitution ring. Hartwell denies the allegations and accuses the government of criminalizing actions protected by the First Amendment. Prosecutors say Hartwell’s actions are not constitutionally protected. (Maricopa County Sheriff via AP)

(Associated Press)

PHOENIX – The owner of a company in an industrial area of Phoenix says he was running a legitimate porn studio where amateurs can rent cameras, lights and props to create their own sex scenes with the help of a model.

Authorities, however, say that it was nothing more than a cleverly disguised brothel rake in $40,000 a month in profit.

Owner William James Hartwell denies running a prostitution ring and in court documents, accused the government of criminalising the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

He goes on trial next week on charges of operating a house of prostitution, trafficking, and sexual abuse in the intriguing legal clash over the First Amendment.

Hartwell, 56, says the sexual acts that were recorded and photographed amount to the constitutionally protected freedom of speech practiced in the same way as a professional porn studios that legally operate.

“All the sexual acts that took place in the studio was for the purpose of exploring and expressing one’s sexuality through safe and legal adult content creation,” Hartwell wrote in court records.

A call left for Rick Poster, a lawyer for Hartwell, was not returned.

Police say female employees who took clients in rooms would insist on recording a minute long video or 10 photos with sexual content, for the cameras were removed and they began to fuck.

Prosecutors say that these photos were taken in an attempt to protect you against any future prostitution allegations.

To get in the location, the men had to respond to an online ad and got the address only after they called from a nearby gas station. Once inside, documents say, they had to use their genitals as a way to protect against an undercover police. (Police to prevent the appearance of the participants in sex so they can maintain credibility if cases go to court.)

The research was launched in 2012 after police got a tip about the company.

Authorities sent to informants posing as customers or potential employees. An informant said Hartwell told her during an interview that the studio provides clients with a porn production space, cameras, condoms and a “free porn girl,” court documents state.

A website for the company said customers could not give their money to someone other than a receptionist and could only do so for rental and studio fees. Authorities say the prostitutes were told that they do not have to worry about the legal consequences of prostitution because they do not deal with money.

Researchers say that customers are allowed to pick up a USB stick with photos or videos a few days after a sexual encounter. About half of the customers actually return to retrieve the images.

A number of women who worked in the studio with pled guilty to related charges and are expected to testify during the process.

“The prosecution of the defendant and the employees for crimes related to prostitution is lawful,” attorney Monica Sochacki said in court records.

Hartwell is also charged with sexually assaulting two women in the company and they said that they do not want to participate and not more.

It is unclear whether any of the customers were accused of crimes.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Hartwell, declined to comment on the case beyond what is in the archives of the court.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud on twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud.

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