Three undercover detectives were working the streets of Miami's South Beach in the wee hours of June 22 when three women approached them with an offer. For $40 each, the men could join them aboard a limousine bus with "all you can drink" service included. Intrigued, the cops agreed. Once on board, they found two more women and a male driver. Some of the women began removing their clothes and dancing, police say. The detectives were then offered a menu of options, according to arrest affidavits: "stand-up" dances for $10, lap dances for $20 and access to a curtained VIP room for $125, where "you'll get your money worth," one of the women said. All three officers paid for two lap dances each. Then, the affidavits read, they paid for admission to the VIP area, where two of them negotiated oral sex for $100 each and the third arranged for sexual intercourse for the same price. Before the women could perform, the detectives arrested all six people on board.
With that, they busted what police are calling a "brothel on wheels." It appeared to be doing brisk business; cops found more than $2,000 in one drawer alone. Cash "was spread out all over the place," said one of the detectives in court later. "It was on their G-strings. In 19 years, I've never seen this." The six defendants happened to get caught up in a broad nationwide sweep led by the FBI and aimed at finding child prostitutes. Dubbed "Operation Cross Country," the five-day roundup spanned 16 cities and recovered 21 children, but none were found on the South Beach bus.
Now, all six defendants—Princess Thigpen, Christine Morteh, Leah Harris, Kimberly Daniels, Leighann Redding and Scott Clyde—are facing charges, including prostitution, doing business without a license and possession of a controlled substance. The six have been released on bond, and so far, only Clyde's arraignment has been scheduled, for July 14.
Miami Beach police say they've never seen anything like this brothel bus. Shiny and black, it's a custom conversion on a tractor-trailer frame. Inside, it's outfitted with black leather benches and a bar. According to Eric Salat, owner of A1 Limousine Service in Miami, a bus like that would probably cost about $150,000, though he's never seen this particular one in person. Authorities believe that Morteh owns the vehicle, which has been impounded, says Detective Juan Sanchez, spokesman for the police department.
Clyde, the driver, denied the charges against him and the women in an interview with Newsweek. The police "are lying," he says. "Not one of those girls, not one, has a prior for prostitution. Do you think they just all decided one day to become prostitutes for a hundred dollars? That just doesn't make any sense." (Sanchez would not discuss the defendants' prior records, if any, saying that was not public information.) None of the female defendants could be reached for comment, and lawyers for them haven't yet been identified.
According to Clyde, he and the women own a legitimate company that's involved in, among other things, "bikini boxing" competitions. Though he wouldn't confirm the company's name, the Florida Division of Corporations includes a listing for L.D.G.T. United, LLC, with Clyde and Morteh as managers. All told, Clyde says, the company has more than two dozen female boxers, including Thigpen, one of the women arrested. Another handful of employees are "ring girls"—the ones who strut around holding up placards showing what round the bout is in.
Some of the women who were arrested can be seen on a MySpace page for knockoutqueens.com. The page is full of pictures of bikini-clad women slugging it out with puffy boxing gloves. Several of the shots appear to have been taken on the brothel bus, including one featuring a group of women wearing Santa caps and aiming their rear ends at the camera. The page also contains posters for a 2008 nationwide bikini boxing tour and promotions for DVDs. A 2007 press release distributed on BlackPR.com and BlackNews.com touts bikini boxing as "the latest trend … sweeping urban America." It promotes a 90-minute DVD titled "Knockout Queens" filmed by Lighthouse North, a company "headed by entrepreneur Scott Clyde." "We have filmed over 100 matches at strip clubs everywhere and these are definitely the Top Ten," the release quotes Clyde as saying.
Clyde told NEWSWEEK that his company has been promoting itself in South Beach by hawking pinup calendars of the women. That's what the group was doing the night it was arrested, he claims. "We've been there for over a year," says Clyde. "The police know us. The people in the shops know us." Sanchez denied that Miami Beach police were familiar with the women, but at least one South Beach vendor recognized them. "They are always around selling their calendars, wearing cowboy hats and Daisy Dukes," says Juan "Spider" Lazo, a body piercer at RU Tattoos, whose second-floor shop overlooks the intersection where the six were arrested. "A couple of them have been in the shop for tattoos." Before the group was busted, it was preparing for a competition in New Jersey, says Clyde. Unfortunately for the six defendants, it looks like the 2008 Knockout Queens tour may have to proceed without them.