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True Erotic Crime Story: A Notorious Sex Temple and Its Ruling Pimp Priestess True Erotic Crime Story: A Notorious Sex Temple and Its Ruling Pimp Priestess

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True Erotic Crime Story: A Notorious Sex Temple and Its Ruling Pimp Priestess

May 12 2016

During Tracy Elise's four-month trial she called upon a porn star, a naked life coach, and a self-proclaimed pimp as witnesses to prove that her profession as a Priestess of sexual healing was religious, not financial, in nature, but an Arizona jury didn't buy it. Now she faces 70 years in prison.

Tracy Elise, often garbed in gauzy dresses, jewel-hued scarves, and traditional bindi glued over her third eye, was known as the Mystic Mother to the priestesses of her coven. A 55-year-old mother of three, Elise would invite men and women to her temple to heal them through sensual massage and therapeutic tantric sex sessions. She considers herself a priestess and healer; a jury in Arizona just convicted her of being a pimp.

Elise was found guilty on 22 prostitution-related charges and faces up to 70 years in prison. She has already put in a request for leniency.

Throughout her four-month trial, prosecutors for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix accused Elise of essentially running a brothel behind a thin veil of semantics at the temple: Customers were called "Seekers" instead of Johns; the women who made appointments and negotiated payments were called "gatekeepers'' instead of madams; and those who performed sex acts were called "goddesses'' and "practitioners."

Elise had hoped that her constitutional right to freedom of religion would protect her from conviction. Citing her affiliations with the controversial Oklevueha Native American Church, which is based in Utah and mainly famous for using peyote in religious ceremonies, she argued during her trial that the acts of "sacred sexual healing'' performed by her "goddesses'' were expressions of her religion.

"This is my religion; this is my church," Elise said at an April 8 court appearance. "I am taking a stand for all of this."

The temple's operations were based on Tantra, a sexual ritual that dates back to ancient India. Tantra seeks to unite mind, body, and spirit through creating a unique bond between sex partners; Elise believes the impact can be so powerful that people are healed of emotional scars built up throughout their lives. She worships a female deity and views women as guides to sexual healing and happiness. But after stripping away what they consider Elise's mystic veneer, prosecutors described the sex acts in more blunted, familiar terms: erotic massages, genital touching, manual masturbation, oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal penetration.

Prosecutors argued that while Elise was welcome to practice as much sacred sexual healing as she liked, a six-month-long police investigation demonstrated that she had also violated Arizona's prostitution laws when her temple accepted donations in exchange for sex acts.

According to a court documents, Elise mandated that "seekers must get a release or orgasm in exchange for payment and that, at a minimum, the Goddesses must expose their breasts during the sessions." Elise instructed Goddesses to not discuss payment with Seekers in an attempt to circumvent the law against prostitution, and Goddesses advertised in the "adult," "escort," and "body rub" sections of a website known for prostitution.

One advertisement for the temple in an alternative weekly read:

Goddess Venus gives Sensual Worship . . . that lifts you up, whether you desire to Relax and be in Bliss or you may long for my appreciation of your masculinity. Offerings of Support: $204 1 hr, $303 90 mins.

Another ad touted "Very Erotic Priestess Sophia" and read, "When you walk through the door of the Temple, I greet you in a sexy goddess attire, I embrace you with a very heartwarming hug. I take your hand and lead you to my Chamber."

According to prosecution documents, men never paid a temple employee directly, instead leaving an "offering" or a "donation" on the bed at the end of their sessions. The Goddesses made as much as $5,000 to $8,000 a month.

The trial appeared alternatively entertaining and halting, with Elise, who was representing herself, calling a Nevada brothel owner as her star witness to highlight the differences between their professions. During his testimony, it was revealed that Elise gave him a therapeutic massage complete with a genital touching before he arrived in court.

According to prosecution documents, men never paid a temple employee directly, instead leaving an "offering" or a "donation" on the bed at the end of their sessions. The Goddesses made as much as $5,000 to $8,000 a month.

At one point, Elise attempted to emphasize her free expression of religion defense by asking a Phoenix police vice detective, Amanda Herman, "Do you think that you or the government has the right to determine what is sacred or not sacred?"

Herman appeared unfazed, however, answering, "My testimony is that prostitution was occurring in the sessions you were in charge of."

Prosecutors Christopher Sammons and Edward Leiter would object to Elise's questioning of witnesses. Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens would sustain their objections and then attempt to patiently explain laws and rules to Elise at bench conferences. During her closing arguments, Elise erected a mini altar for the jury, one of many she had constructed throughout the trial.

Sylvia Wade, Elise's daughter and a former gatekeeper at the temple, argued that the prosecutors only focused on the sex acts. She acknowledged there was sex in the temple sessions, but only as part of a healing process. "Everything is possible, nothing is guaranteed," Wade insisted of the experience in her mother's temple. "It's two people connected.''

In response to the issue of payment, Wade fired back, "Every church exists on donations.''

Tracy Elise via Facebook

Elise called on a Native American medicine man, a porn star, a guru, and a naked life coach during the trial. But the most bizarre testimony came from reality TV star, self-styled pimp, and brothel owner Denis Hof.

Hof contrasted his own business practices at the Bunny Ranch and six other legal brothels with those of Elise. He also used the occasion to blast Arizona authorities for "grandstanding'' during their efforts to crack down on sex trafficking, saying that legalized prostitution is the answer to get criminals out of the sex business.

"There's lots of sex going on in Arizona, and people looking the other way,'' Hof said, adding that he saw advertisements by 600 to 700 young women, many of them underage, on Arizona websites catering to sex.

Hof testified that, in prostitution, women are always seeking the most money possible for sex while men are always wanting to spend as little as possible, which stood in direct contract to Elise's "honor system." The temple's voluntary donation scheme was inconsistent with the usual business practices of a brothel. Elise argued that some Seekers took advantage of her Goddesses by indulging themselves in treatments without leaving an offering.

Elise's honor system would cost his brothels millions, Hof said. He explained how his "Bunny Bible" encourages prostitutes to upsell clients after achieving a rapport.

'Did you get a handjob at the end?'

It all works quite well, he added, with the average customer spending more than $1,000 per visit; one had even spent $2.4 million. But the goal, he emphasized, is always to "get the money" up front—not to rely on some sort of donation at the end.

If Elise's honor system were imposed everywhere, many prostitutes would not work without guaranteed payment, Hof said. "A gentleman just wouldn't pay, or if he would pay, it would be a smaller amount" than negotiating a price upfront, he continued.

"Some want to come in and have sex; some want to have an experience. Everyone has a different idea of what their party is about,'' Hof said. "The girls are there to have a good time and make a six-figure income. It's about the money for them."

These services at the Bunny Ranch, however, are quite different than those performed at Elise's temple, he said.

Hof revealed during his testimony that Elise had performed a "whole body healing" on him in his hotel room the night before. He described an incredibly relaxing experience that allowed him to sleep better than he has for a long time.

When Elise asked Hof if he thinks she is a prostitute, Hof said, "I look at you more as a healer or an educator."

Under cross-examination from Sammons, Hof said that he and Elise were naked, that she rubbed his head with oil, and that she touched his penis. He said he was apprehensive only because he usually dates "girls half her age," prostitutes who are in their 20s and work at his brothels.

"Did you get a handjob at the end?" Sammons asked pointedly.

Hof said he did not remember a handjob and might have fallen asleep.

"It wasn't like a masturbation, but there is the touching of the genital," Hof said. "I felt incredibly relaxed, a level that I haven't felt in a long time."

Tracie Elise via Facebook

More than 30 other defendants in the case, including many involved in the actual sex acts and an office manager who taught sexual healing classes, entered into plea bargains and received light sentences, such as a year's probation. Some co-defendants agreed to testify against Elise while others did not.

In her many YouTube videos and appearances on a streaming radio show, Elise said she was certain detectives would realize that they had cracked down on a church once they reviewed temple records in computer files seized during the raid. "She was a little naive, that the truth would set her free," Elise's son, Ben Wade, said. "I feel like she is a religious and political prisoner."

Wade said his mother's initial intent had not been to become a martyr, but the case had evolved in that direction, with the guilty verdicts and the possibility of what would amount to a life sentence, even though the only victim was the state.

'I feel like she is a religious and political prisoner.'

He also said that prosecutors admitted the sincerity of Elise's religious beliefs several times during the trial; he is convinced those admissions would help his mother on appeal. He said he is confident that the higher courts will do a better job of examining constitutional questions.

Kyle Green, Elise's advisory counsel, said a plea deal would have reduced Elise's potential exposure to a long prison sentence but that that was never an option for Elise. "Ms. Elise is very strong in her belief system," Green said. She was adamant in her desire to either have the charges dropped or to take her case to trial and have a jury render a verdict.

"I think this trial was so different than any other trial I have been at part of. It was her doing her own thing. I would not have gone in that direction,'' Green said diplomatically.

Elise, her supporters, and her children, are looking beyond the sentencing to the appellate level, where they hope the same constitutional questions ruled out in superior court will become their mother's best hope for exoneration. The case of Elise's temple—or brothel, depending on your point of view—could end up testing the bounds of religious freedom under the First Amendment before the Arizona Court of Appeals and perhaps ultimately, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Loren Thomas, the academic dean of Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, and a friend of Elise who has discussed religion with her several times, said there are no actual victims in the case and there is no justification for giving Elise a long sentence because she poses no threat to the public.

Thomas, who also holds a masters in divinity from the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia and is a scholar of classical religious thought, said Tantra is a "cultural adaptation" that Elise uses in her belief system and that cultural adaptations are common in many religions. He said Tantra dates back centuries to Hindu and Buddhist religious practices. "It's the use of physical pleasure to achieve an altered state of consciousness,'' Thomas said, just as Native American religions might use peyote to achieve a similar effect, or charismatic Christian religions might use speaking in tongues. While many might find Elise's religion unconventional and uncomfortable, he said her beliefs are all borrowed from a variety of religious traditions.

"Every one of them has precedence in history and parallels current religions," Thomas said.

Maricopa County begs to differ. "They think on some level, she really believed that what she was doing was religious," said Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the County Attorney's Office. But, he added, "You can't exchange sex for money. At the end of the day, that's what she was doing."

Elise will be sentenced on May 19th.

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