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Police say business lured clients who paid to star in their own adult films.

9:45 AM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
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PHOENIX, Az. -- A business that police say uses pornography as a front for prostitution was the target of a late-night raid Thursday.

William James Hartwell, 52, the business owner, and eight women were arrested at the studio that police say ostensibly lured clients who want to star in their own adult films.

Officers quickly made entry into the business, operated by New Media Studios, located in an industrial area near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 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.

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."

The raid marked the end of a six-month investigation.

Investigators learned of the business through a tip and began developing information that led them to believe the studio was selling more than photos and videos.

Clients contacted the business and were directed to the location. Once there, they received paperwork to sign, according to court documents.

The paperwork states explicitly that "he is paying to have his pornographic fantasy recorded," according to court documents.

The operators would also perform a "check" for sexually transmitted diseases that required customers to drop their pants and expose themselves, according to records.

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, according to court documents.

Once inside, the customer met with a woman in a private room where photos were taken. Then, according to court documents, the customer was told he "could do whatever he wanted."

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."

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.

Businesses already produce porn in the Phoenix area, many featuring women touted as amateurs.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has said in the past that he will prosecute pornography cases police bring to his office, but he references anti-prostitution statutes as his primary tools.

USA TODAY

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