A prosecutor told a jury Thursday that Steven Santiago Maese may appear dapper and clean-cut, but he is really a "pimp" for prostitutes who worked for the Doll House escort service that Maese co-owned with the house "madam," Tiffany French Curtis.
The old stereotype of a pimp doesn't apply anymore, prosecutor Michael Colby said during opening arguments in Maese's trial.
"The evidence will show the pimp of today doesn't wear flashy jewelry and a big hat but a conservative business suit," Colby said.
Colby said Maese maintained an escort service that really was a house of prostitution, with women dispatched to male customers to provide sex for money, and then the employees handed over a portion of the funds.
That simply isn't the case, defense attorney Gil Athay told the jury.
Maese is a legitimate businessman with a background in marketing who Curtis asked to help with drafting a business plan to buy an existing escort service company, Athay said. Maese's research showed it would be more economical to create a new business, which the pair then did.
"Miss Curtis assured Mr. Maese this business would be conducted in a legal fashion," Athay said.
In fact, the Doll House had a policy manual that outlined precisely what its female workers could and could not do. Dancing, giving back rubs and touching certain specific parts of the body were OK. Sexual activity was expressly forbidden. They also were advised by a lawyer about what constituted legal and illegal behavior, Athay said.
Athay said some of the females who will testify did work as prostitutes, but when they engaged in sexual activity while associated with the Doll House, "they did it by their own choice."
The prosecution's first witness, Daniel Bartlett of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, said the investigators started the investigation using a "trash cover," a technique in which they obtain an empty trash truck and dump the suspect's trash on trash day, and then go to a predetermined location to sift through the trash to look for clues. They determined there was enough evidence to get a search warrant.
The warrant was served on April 5, 2006, at 2:30 p.m. Investigators found documents showing the defendant co-owned the business, including a business license, incorporation documents, worker's schedules, appointment schedules, cash and a gun in a safe.
As part of the investigation, Bartlett watched traffic going into the house. He got the license plate information from one of the cars, learned who the owner was, obtained a driver's license photo, and used that photo to identify one of the escort workers by comparing it to the Doll House's Web site, which displayed pictures of the workers.
The defendant's banking records were also examined. There were money transfers from the Doll House's account to the defendant's account. Athay said they reflected routine business, nothing devious.
Athay asked Bartlett if the press was there when the warrant was served, which Bartlett affirmed. He asked if serving a warrant normally involved the press and asked Bartlett if he was the one who called the press. Bartlett denied calling the press.
Co-owner Tiffany Curtis testified that the business had a policy manual outlining what the escorts could do, which excluded sex. When a person was hired to be an escort when she and the defendant started the business, they advised employees how to be legal escorts.
They stopped such meetings with prospective employees, Curtis said, because they wanted the escorts to be more open for sex. When they hired a new person, they would set an appointment with a regular customer to see if she would have sex. If she would, she was labeled as someone who would "play ball."
"I would send girls to them and they would give me feedback," Curtis said.
She said if the escort wanted to have sex for money, it was the decision of that person; the Doll House only collected $95 of the $145 fee. However, she said the girls who wouldn't have sex would get bad reviews on the Doll House Web site's hyperlink called The Erotic Review. She said bad reviews could break a sexually oriented business. As a result, she said she and Maese would place fictitious reviews on the site.
Communication about an escort's sexual activity was common between her and Maese, she said.
On one occasion, she said, they talked with an escort about her performing a having oral sex act with a client.
Curtis said she received a percentage of an escort's take as a tradition, but not as a company policy.
Former employee Allison Jensen said she was one of the Doll House's top earners, seeing 15-20 men per week. She said sex for money was the norm, and that during one meeting, Maese suggested even cheaper sexual favors to attract more clients.
When Jensen wanted to get out of the business, Maese and Curtis mailed a letter with photos depicting Jensen's life as an escort to her mother, she said.
Maese, 31, was charged in 2006 with four counts of exploiting a prostitute, all third-degree felonies, and one count each of money laundering and pattern of unlawful activity, both second-degree felonies.
Then in April 2008 he was charged in a separate case with two new counts witness tampering, a third-degree felony, and stalking, a class A misdemeanor. These charges stem from incidents of alleged harassment of Curtis.
Curtis originally was charged with the same crimes as Maese, but she was offered a plea bargain in February 2008 on misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to two years probation.
Athay has said that this plea agreement was one of the reasons why 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy should have disqualified the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office from the case. Curtis denied she received any special treament or a plea bargan in exchange for lesser charges.
Prosecutor Chad Platt, however, told the judge it was natural that the district attorney would be involved in the cases her office is prosecuting. The judge agreed and Skanchy earlier issued a written ruling stating that the trial would proceed and he would not disqualify the district attorney's office.
Athay argued earlier this week that Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller has taken an active role in Maese's case and has made it clear that no plea bargain would be offered to him. The office should not prosecute this case because of Miller's "political and personal vendetta" against Maese, according to Athay. The allegation is based on an ongoing dispute between Miller and Kent Morgan, a friend of Maese.
There is a history of conflict between Maese and Miller.
Maese contends that Miller, who formerly was a prosecutor for Cottonwood Heights, engineered a 2006 police raid on the Doll House as a publicity stunt to boost her campaign for Salt Lake County District Attorney.
Miller insisted that was not true and that she was simply doing her job by clamping down on sexually oriented businesses that violated the law.
Soon afterward, Maese helped then-candidate Morgan, a veteran prosecutor in the district attorney's office, with his unsuccessful campaign to become district attorney. Miller won the office and in March, 2008, she fired Morgan, claiming that he had provided inside information to Maese about his case.
Morgan vigorously denied that claim and stated that he was certain this was simply retaliation because he ran for the same office Miller wanted. He is appealing his termination to the Salt Lake County Career Service Council in hearings set for Aug. 18-22.