Prosecutors called him a modern-day "pimp." A jury agreed late Friday, convicting Santiago Steven Maese of five felonies in connection with his former Doll House escort service.
After 4 1/2 hours of deliberation, the three-woman, five-man jury delivered unanimous verdicts on four counts of exploiting a prostitute, a third-degree felony, and one count of a pattern of unlawful activity, a second-degree felony. He was found not guilty of money laundering, a second-degree felony.
Following the verdict, 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy ordered a pre-sentence report and set a sentencing hearing for Sept. 8. Skanchy did not order that Maese be taken into custody, citing his clean criminal record and faithful attendance at court hearings.
Maese showed no reaction as the verdict was read and said he plans to appeal. Prosecutor Chad Platt referred to the verdict as a "victory for the rule of law."
Platt said in closing arguments Friday that despite Maese's sleek businesslike exterior, he is actually a pimp at heart controlling, demanding and vengeful.
The prosecutor said it was naive to think that Tiffany French Curtis, Maese's former girlfriend and the co-owner of the Doll House escort service, ran the whole show and Maese knew nothing about sex-for-money.
Platt insisted Maese loves two things control and money.
And when he lost control and lost money, he lashed out with a cruel letter detailing one escort's sexual conduct that was sent to the woman's mother.
The prosecutor attacked the credibility of some testimony, saying among other things that one defense witness, attorney William Andrew McCullough, contradicted his own testimony. Maese earlier testified he had the attorney give presentations on how to be a legal escort service once per quarter, while McCullough said he gave the presentations only twice.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Gil Athay said the state's case was built on the testimony of witnesses whose credibility was "not worth a grain of salt" and who had "motive, bias and reason to make false statements."
"Mr. Maese was a very credible witness," Athay told the jury. "Can you say that about the rest of the witnesses?"
One of them, former escort Danielle Thomas, testified that she is bipolar, is being treated by three doctors and must take four types of medication.
"This was an angry woman," Athay said, reading an obscenity-laden interview Thomas had with police a couple of years ago in which she announced she had a vendetta against Maese and wanted to "ruin his life."
Athay also scoffed at the credibility of Curtis, Maese's former business partner and girlfriend, who originally was charged with the same felony crimes but who took a plea bargain to two misdemeanor charges and was sentenced only to probation.
Athay and Platt disagreed about why the escorts and Curtis would testify. Athay insisted the women doubtless were encouraged by getting "deals" that included immunity in the state case and pleas in abeyance (which can be cleared from one's record.) Platt, however, said the immunity grants for the prostitutes were essential since it takes courage to get on a witness stand and admit to breaking the law.