By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
But police didn't give up. They believe Vanmoor quickly returned to oversee his escort empire, and last June, they busted him again. Even from jail, Vanmoor is making ends meet. Last March, he sued a California bank and credit card firm, alleging it had illegally held onto a security deposit he'd put down to cover bogus charges billed to his business. In a videotaped deposition, Vanmoor -- wearing "sunglasses and a black sports coat with 'sparkly things in it,'" according to online comments by a judge who was present -- sneered at the camera or turned his face away from it.
The lucky streak of the man who cops allege used the alias "Big Pimpin' Pappy" stuck around, though. He won the case. Last summer, a California jury awarded him $3 million in damages.
The lawyer now in charge of defending Vanmoor refused to let New Timesvisit his client in jail. "We have serious charges pending," Sidney Z. Fleischman explains. "Racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy -- he can't be answering questions. He probably would like to, but we're not going to."
Arthur Vanmoekerken was born in Amsterdam on February 19, 1960. When he and his wife, Jennifer, divorced in May 2003, he claimed to have been a U.S. resident for the past 12 years. His name surfaces in public records in 1995, when he filed a U.S. patent for the antishoplifting tag from a North Miami Beach address. Around that time, or perhaps before, he apparently turned his attention to the South Florida escort trade.
By 1997, Vanmoor had snared such a noticeably large portion of the escort business that police couldn't help but be aware of him. Prosecutors contend that Vanmoor grew his enterprise by saturating listings in the local Yellow Pages; they estimate that 90 percent of escort-related ads in the Fort Lauderdale phone book in the late 1990s were connected to companies owned by Vanmoor and that he had as many as 100 women working for his agency full-time. Calling any listing from AAAAaaardvark Escorts on down rang lines in Vanmoor's drab Fort Lauderdale office. Girls would appear at the door in a matter of minutes. "The Yellow Pages asks you to pay up-front for a year, and he had the capital to do it," comments Jack Perry, owner of Jack and Elaine's, a rival escort service.
His primary company, Amber's Executive Models, was in a cinder-block bunker off I-95 in Fort Lauderdale. One February evening in 1997, vice detective Barry Margolis arranged to meet one of Amber's girls at a nearby hotel room, according to an affidavit. After charging $200 to his American Express card, "the female ultimately agreed to perform oral sex on me, and I terminated the session," Margolis wrote. Detectives tailed the escort back to the office at 2200 W. Commercial Blvd., then left, preferring to gather more evidence before filing charges.
The $200 "consulting fee" showed up on Margolis' credit card bill as "Security Services 2000," based in Hollywood, Florida. When Fort Lauderdale police subpoenaed records from American Express, they learned that Vanmoor was doing more than $15,000 worth of business a month, at an average charge of $250.
During the ensuing months, authorities continued to arrest escorts connected to Vanmoor. One of them, Ruth Rodriguez, contends that she was required to give $80 to the service from each call if it was a cash transaction; the company would get $100 if it was via a credit card buy. Her report was generally confirmed by at least 12 additional escorts. "Amber's is considered a high-volume escort service that handles approximately 80 clients a day," Margolis noted in his affidavit. "Based on that volume and the average cost of $200 per session, this business appears to gross approximately $6 million annually."
Fort Lauderdale police executed a search warrant on Amber's Executive Models on February 9, 1998, arresting Vanmoor and several employees. Prosecutors had already hit Vanmoor with felony charges including violating RICO -- Racketeering, Influence, and Conspiracy -- statutes as well as living off the earnings of a prostitute, procuring a person under 18 for prostitution, and engaging in unlawful sexual activity.
During a court hearing, Fleischman repeatedly attempted to have the case thrown out, at one point alleging that Margolis employed "unusual methods" and saying his client had been the victim of "prosecutorial vindictiveness." Even the judge assigned to the case, Barry Goldstein, seemed to admit as much. "I don't think there's any doubt that the detective went out of his way," said Goldstein, according to court transcripts. "The detective put extra emphasis on Mr. Vanmoor. I don't know why, except maybe he's disgusted with the type of operation Mr. Vanmoor is running. It appears that Mr. Vanmoor was targeted by the office, but not illegally so."
In December 2001, the Broward State Attorney's Office dropped those charges, citing "lack of evidence." Other charges were eventually reduced to misdemeanor soliciting counts. In 1999, he was sentenced to six months' probation and ordered to pay $65,000 in restitution to the Fort Lauderdale Law Enforcement Trust Fund.
After his release from jail, Vanmoor found himself evicted from his office; police had confiscated everything in the room, including $1,200 in cash. Eventually, though, Goldstein ordered such items as a Foosball table, telephones, office equipment, a stereo, and a pinball machine returned to Vanmoor.