By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Calling himself "the last real deal in America," Lemonis says that he hates alcoholics, but admits he's a recovering alcoholic himself. He says he hates cigarettes, yet smokes constantly. His office contains mouthwash, breath spray, a large Duracraft air purifier, a floor fan, two cans of air freshener, a container of potpourri, a vacuum and scented candles. Your clothes still smell like smoke when you leave.
"Those are my views on prostitution," he continues. "I go by the old book, not the new book. [The Valley] has one of the worst crack problems in the country, and we have our police force running around chasing escort services. They should crack down on the drug dealers, not these innocent girls working their way through college who are licensed and have had background checks."
The City of Phoenix revoked Lemonis' escort license in 1997, claiming that two of his escorts offered to perform oral sex on each other for an undercover officer at the Radisson Hotel. ("That's bullshit," says Lemonis. "There was only one girl, and all she did was touch herself.") Essence Entertainment has since relocated to Scottsdale, and Lemonis says he now operates exclusively within Scottsdale city limits.
His prostitution-came-with-creation bit is his second-favorite speech. The first is his boasting-about-the-girls speech, which is this:
"Three of my girls have been in Playboy, six have been in Penthouse and four have been adult-film stars. They're not crack whores from Van Buren."
In his office, Lemonis takes incoming calls from a row of phones. No computers, he notes, "no records that can be hacked." On a wall behind him are his escort licenses, framed and centered like Harvard diplomas.
"Now about Cole, I taught her everything she knows about escorting," he says. "I taught her how to dress, how to do her hair, how to act, everything. Let me guess: When you met her she was wearing a black mini and a boob-tube top, right?"
"See?" he says, "What'd I tell you!"
Lemonis laughs and crushes a cigarette.
"Well, you're probably here wondering what an escort is, right?" he asks. "Look at the Scottsdale escort guideline and that will tell you."
The definition of "Escorts" under Section 16-452 of the Scottsdale City Code reads: "Any person who is hired . . . for the purpose of accompanying another person or persons to or about social affairs, entertainments, places of amusement or at any place of public resort or within any private quarters for compensation of any kind."
But that's hardly definitive.
"Yes it is," Lemonis says. "We're not a brothel. I don't condone or promote prostitution in any shape or form because it's against the law. We're companions."
He tilts his head, weighing the words.
"Then again," he says, "what goes on behind closed doors between two consenting adults is between them."
The customer line buzzes and Lemonis takes the call.
"Yes?" he barks. "You want what? She-males?" Exasperated sigh. "No, get a copy of The Beat, that paper has ads for she-males. Sure . . . no problem . . . bye."
He hangs up.
"Anyway, this is a resort town. And we're in the resort business. Ninety-five percent of our business is at the resorts. We deliver, just like Domino's -- only tastier. We're a full-service entertainment company, and what I mean by 'full service' has nothing to do with sex. We can provide the gambit -- a bachelor party, a birthday party, high school reunions. We have access to limousines, town cars, boats, jet planes and helicopters. Even horse-drawn carriages and gondolas. Gondolas! You want a gondola? We'll put you in a fuckin' gondola.
"We can package a complete night on the town. There's no standing in line [for our clients], because I'll call general managers and make sure our client gets right in and up to the VIP sections. We're connected -- from the club owners, to the general managers, to the doormen, to the concierges, to the cooks in the kitchen to the dishwasher. That's how networked we are."
Lemonis leans back in his chair.
"Yes, Scottsdale has been good to us as long as we follow the law," he says. "They don't cause a problem, they don't cause a scene. Unlike Phoenix. Fuck Phoenix!"
The phone rings again. A potential new hire.
"You're friend of who?" he asks. "Is she a brunette, about a 36-natural with dolphins around her belly button? Yeah, I know her. What do you look like? . . . Jesus. What do you weigh? And how old are you? Okay, give me a call tomorrow afternoon and we'll set something up."
He hangs up.
"You'd be amazed how famous some of our clients are," he continues. "What I know about Arizona politicians and athletes would keep New Times publishing for years. But our average client is a businessman, middle-aged, in town for a convention or business trip. We also get quite a few snowbirds from October 15 through Easter."
Lemonis offers one of the business cards. (Cole Taylor says her former boss would give the cards to nightclub doormen along with a $100 bill.) The business cards are thick and gold.
"You won't throw away a card like that," he says.