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Babes Prostitution Sting; Strippers vocal about sex charges

Texas- Two dancers accused of prostitution in a Nolanville strip club raid are embarrassed and shocked by the charges they face after giving lap dances to undercover state investigators.

“We’re being arrested and prosecuted for prostitution, and we’re not prostitutes,” Bryttni Williford said Thursday. “We dance and that’s our job, but we’re not in the club selling ourselves for sex.”

Williford, 19, of Killeen, along with Nicole Henson, 25, of Copperas Cove, and Sheena Taylor, 22, of Harker Heights, were each charged with two counts of prostitution. They were released from jail after posting bail, which was pre-set at $4,000, or $2,000 per count.

In addition, four warrants were issued for other Babes employees, Bell County Attorney Richard Miller said on Wednesday.

Tia Johnston, 22, of Killeen, was also arrested on a charge of promoting obscene material. She, too, was released from jail after posting bail.

A court date is expected to be set within the next six to eight weeks, Williford and Taylor said.

Prostitution is a Class B misdemeanor that carries a maximum punishment of 180 days in county jail and/or a $2,000 fine, and up to two years of community service. However, the stigma and experience of being arrested and charged have been more than enough punishment for two of the women charged, they said.

Williford said the time she spent in jail after Babes was raided at 9 p.m. Jan. 18 was the worst 12 hours of her life. She added that she had never been accused of anything more than speeding.

The arrest and the resulting media coverage have damaged her and her family’s reputation, said Williford, who has lived in Killeen her whole life.

“We’re all over the news, and our family and friends are seeing us being accused of prostitution, and it’s appalling,” Williford said.

Taylor, who stopped working at Babes in December to pursue her education at a local school, said she is afraid to take her daughter to the grocery store because of the looks she gets from people.

Taylor and Williford were working Nov. 29, 2007, when two undercover Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission investigators entered the club. On that night, Taylor and Williford asked the investigators if they would like private dances, according to the arrest affidavits.

Taylor took the two officers to couches near the back of the building and danced for them while wearing only a G-string, according to the affidavit. During the dance, Taylor rubbed against the officer and placed her head against the officer’s groin and received money for the performance.

Williford and Taylor were surprised that the actions they are accused of doing in the arrest affidavits could be considered prostitution.

“Basically, what it said was that I had my head in the guy’s groin and rubbed against him. If that counts as prostitution, that’s ridiculous,” Taylor said.

Taylor, who has danced for four years, said she did not remember rubbing her head against the officer’s groin and said the only explanation she can think of is that her long hair touched his groin.

“I don’t remember putting my head in anybody’s lap. If I did, my bad. I’m not a prostitute,” she said.

“I am not there for the arousing of anyone. I am there because I am a single mother … I am there to take care of my daughter,” she said. “I go home to my family and pay my bills. I don’t go in there to think about how I can satisfy a customer.”

Williford and Taylor see dancing as entirely different from prostitution other than that money is exchanged.

“They make it seem like I’m in there doing dirty things for money,” Taylor said.

“We sell a dance for $20, and prostitutes sell sex for $20,” Williford said.

According to the arrest affidavit, Williford rubbed the laps of two TABC officers with her backside, thigh and knee while wearing only a G-string. At one point, she situated her topless chest against the face of an officer.

Williford, who has been dancing for a year, said she had performed the same dance at five clubs in cities from Dallas to Austin, including two clubs in Killeen, and has never been told anything about her work.

“If that’s prostitution, then every stripper in every club should be put in jail for prostitution,” Williford said. “It happens in every club. What’s a lap dance if you’re not getting more than what you can see on stage?”

Williford said she had never been informed while working at any strip club that certain types of physical contact were not allowed.

“Nobody gives you a 101 on stripping,” she said.

Williford and Taylor were surprised to find out a person could be charged with prostitution without having had sex, and both said they feel the public perception of what prostitutes do is based on acts much worse than what they do.

“Whenever people outside the strip club think of prostitution, even when I think of it, I think of a girl having sex or oral sex for money, and I don’t do that,” Taylor said.

The Texas penal code states that prostitution occurs when a person knowingly “offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct for a fee; or solicits another in a public place to engage with him in sexual conduct for hire.”

Part of the penal code’s definition of sexual conduct, includes sexual contact, which is defined as “any touching of the anus, breast, or any part of the genitals of another person with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”

While Williford and Taylor are surprised that performing at a strip club landed them in jail, former Nolanville Councilman Don Rohloff is not. In fact, Rohloff said he is only surprised that the raids didn’t happen sooner.

“I knew it was going to happen,” said Rohloff, who said he was the only Nolanville council member to vote against permitting the strip club when it came before the council a few years ago.

“Everybody has the right to work, but when it comes to that kind of bar, you’re going to have that,” Rohloff said. “You’re asking for trouble when you go into a strip joint.”

Nolanville Councilwoman Emma McCullough, who voted in favor of permitting Babes, said she already regrets the decision.

“I don’t like the reputation that it (Babes) is holding with it. But then again, I was right there on the board when it got voted to be put there …,” McCullough said. “I’m just as guilty as everyone else in the council …”

McCullough said reservations she had about the club were outweighed by the potential benefits to the city.

“You’re always looking at bringing in taxpayer money and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you hoped,” she said. “This is something that we had hoped it wouldn’t be as risque as it apparently is.”

The investigation into Babes started in October, after the TABC was notified of several complaints about alcohol, narcotics and penal code violations through the Bell County Attorney’s office, said Lt. Tom Dickson, of the TABC in Waco.

It is not uncommon for TABC agents to handle prostitution investigations because the TABC frequently helps local agencies that may lack the resources.

“These are long, drawn-out investigations. They require a lot of man hours. Sometimes some of the local smaller departments rely on assistance from us,” Dickson said.

Six TABC officers contributed to the arrests, and two officers made about four trips to the strip club since October to investigate the complaints. During undercover investigations at strip clubs, the procedure dictates that officers are to act as customers and to only accept services that are initiated and offered by the dancers.

After the officers conclude the investigation for the evening, they write a report, which the TABC forwards to the Bell County Attorney’s Office, which in turn decides on the appropriate charge or if more investigation is required.

Bell County Attorney Richard Miller was not available for comment for this article. On Wednesday, he said the office targeted penal code violations, particularly prostitution and obscenity based on complaints, but he did not specify the origin of the complaints.

Babes was closed during the Jan. 18 raid, but the business was turned over to the manager on duty after the raid was finished, Dickson said.

Further legal action would have to be taken against the club – including continued ordinance violations – in order for Babes to be shut down, Dickson said. Babes was open for business as of Saturday, and Williford said she intended to return to work Saturday night.

Phone calls to a person identified in state records as one of the owners of Babes were answered, but the person denied being an owner and hung up the phone.

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