Eighteen people were arrested yesterday after police raided two so-called Arizona "temples" on suspicion of prostitution, and there will be more arrests and indictments coming, according to the Phoenix Police Department.
Police revealed some details of their investigation, dubbed "Operation Goddess Temple," at a press conference at Phoenix Police Headquarters today.
The Phoenix police vice unit and police in Yavapai County have been conducting undercover investigations for the past six months at the Sedona Temple in Sedona and the Phoenix Goddess Temple at 24th Street and Thomas Road (we detailed some of the latter temple's "sessions" in February, in the New Times cover story, "Sexual Healing.")
Practitioners at Phoenix Goddess Temple have said their "sessions" (which can include "prostate massage," among other things) are for spiritual healing and part of their religious freedom.
At the press conference today, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who will assist in prosecuting the suspects, made it clear the authorities see the temple's practices quite differently.
"This was no more a church than Cuba was fantasy island," Montgomery said.
So far, indictments have been brought against 33 people. Eighteen individuals have been arrested (including three at the Sedona Temple). Those arrested include "Temple Mother" Tracey Elise and the director of the temple's school, Wayne Clayton.
Twenty-two of the indictments are for being employed in a house of prostitution. There were also six indictments for running a house of prostitution, and four people were indicted for prostitution.
Phoenix Police Sergeant Steve Martos said at the press conference that practitioners at Phoenix Goddess Temple "engaged in acts of prostitution under the guide of religious freedom. They hid behind religious freedom to protect their crimes."
Martos explained that over the course of the past six months, undercover police officers "made deals at the temple to exchange money for sex acts." He also said police knew some practitioners at Phoenix Goddess Temple were also traveling to the Sedona Temple to work.
The raid in Sedona included a house near the temple where all temple employees were living.
Asked if Phoenix police officers engaged in any activities during the course of their investigation that could be considered entrapment, Martos replied, "I don't want to give away too many details of the investigation, but there are policies we follow, guidelines we use so we don't entrap people ... you can presume in this case that acts of prostitution were arranged."
Montgomery also said the the investigation has been ongoing since New Times and local media have written about the Temple, but that investigators needed to gather enough evidence for probable cause to obtain the search warrant police served yesterday.
Martos says none of the temple's clients have been arrested and police are not pursuing potential charges against them at this time. Part of the reason, Martos says, is that the temple didn't keep detailed records on their clients, but the main reason is because police are "focused on the temple and its employees."
The police vice squad investigation into Phoenix Goddess Temple concluded yesterday, but Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery says they still have plenty on their to-do list. "Based on the investigation to date, additional charges will be coming."
Niki has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and PHOENIX magazine, and is now a full-time freelancer.