By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Simone Gitman wants to help me find God. A petite brunet with ocean-blue eyes the size of half-dollar coins, Gitman sits cross-legged next to me on a brown sofa with oversized cushions in the canal-front home she rents in Victoria Park. Dressed in gray sweat pants and a blue tank top that reveals the outline of her braless, diminutive breasts, Gitman puts her left hand on my chest as I breathe in and out deeply.
"Focus all your energy in the center of your chest," she says, breathing audibly with my rhythm. "Now, imagine you're in a white room. You take a seat. In front of you, you can see your physical self sitting here as well as your inner self."
It's in this white room of the mind that Gitman first found God a little over a year ago, discovering a holy spirit through meditation that she describes as a piece of all the world's religions.
Gitman, whose eyes water gently as she talks about her spiritual awakening, now runs a free telephone service called Direct Dial God through which she helps South Floridians find salvation. But that's only the beginning. In fact, Gitman is about as unlikely a disciple as the Virgin Mary was a childbearer. A 32-year-old single mother and college dropout, the Fort Lauderdale woman was until last year among the better-known producers of amateur pornography in South Florida. Before that, she ran a sadomasochistic bed-and-breakfast in Fort Lauderdale and an escort service in Ohio.
This sinful tale of redemption begins in 1994 in Columbus, Ohio, 18 years after Gitman and her engineer parents emigrated from the Soviet Union. Then a young college student, Gitman was away from her family in Cleveland for the first time, flipping through the back of a free tabloid and looking for an easy-money job. Stripping seemed perfect. But then Gitman saw a more enticing help-wanted ad. "Get paid to spank naughty boys," Gitman remembers of the ad, lounging back in her couch, a smoldering cigarette in one hand.
Gitman landed her first job in the adult-entertainment industry as a leather-clad, whip-me-because-I've-been-a-bad-bad-boy dominatrix. She soon built a steady clientele, and after about six months, the dominatrix went on her own, building a private dungeon in the house she rented. The money was flowing. "My girlfriends noticed that I had nice clothes, a nice car, and my nails were always done," she recalls. "To them, it seemed my life was easier. One of them asked me if I could teach her how to be a dominatrix."
She did, and soon the college student was booking outcall S&M and escort services for two of her friends. That summer, Gitman borrowed $10,000 from a boyfriend and opened a storefront escort service, Cover Girls, on Cleveland Avenue. "I remember my first day, I made $800. That was unbelievable," she says. "I started jumping up and down on the couch. Nothing in me felt like this was bad. My function was to be the madam: bring in the clients and make sure the money isn't getting stolen."
A rising entrepreneur in the flesh racket, Gitman dropped out of college in March 1997. By the time she was 25, she had purchased a $152,500 house in Columbus. The next year, her life changed unexpectedly, becoming pregnant and giving birth to a boy on June 16, 1998. Ultimately, Gitman's relationship with the father didn't survive, and she dreamed of a sunnier life in Florida. The next year, she sold her home and packed up for Broward County.
"The first few months, I wandered," she says of Florida. "A little voice in me had said, 'No, don't go back to running an escort service. '" She didn't. But Gitman couldn't leave the lucrative adult industry altogether. In a region fueled by sex, Gitman played to community obsessions -- renting a building at 107 SW Sixth Street in Fort Lauderdale, around the corner from the Broward County Courthouse, to open an 18-room S&M dungeon. Among the themed rooms were a jail, a courthouse, a bondage chamber, and a tap-dancing stage.
Dominant Divas became an overnight bed-and-breakfast experience for which male patrons paid $1,800 to be subjugated. "We had slaves who were so into the fantasy that one of them opened the door to the fire inspector completely nude," Gitman recalls.
But this was 2001. Despite the dreary economy and climate of fear, pornography still raked in millions on the Internet. Gitman, in what she now admits was her biggest business mistake, went online, offering 18 hours per day of live S&M action. "That was the decline of the dungeon," she says. Subscriptions lagged. The bills mounted. Dominant Divas went under. Around the same time, Gitman was evicted from her Hollywood home, owing $14,200 in back rent. She later paid off the debt, according to court records.
As a result of her financial problems, Gitman sold the assets of her business to Vicki R. Coutrier, who now runs the dungeon as Divas Domain. Coutrier refused to comment about Gitman.
Yet Gitman persevered. She started a new company, Thrown Out Productions, and hatched an idea that would cash in on America's burgeoning obsession with reality television. With two hired porn starlets in tow, Gitman would go to bars and clubs in Fort Lauderdale and ask young men if they'd like to be in a pornography shoot. Dozens participated. Gitman, who never involved herself in the sex scenes, sold the content to adult websites touristhunter.com and pornstudsearch.com.
"I wanted to entertain people," Gitman says. "It really wasn't a sex thing, because you're not getting positions like you see in a porno. Guys can't perform in that way. They don't have the stamina or the self-confidence or the experience to pick up a leg and... you know. You have to film at a distance to make it work."
The money was flowing again, just as it had when she ran the escort service in Ohio. But last summer, Gitman picked up a young college student from Tampa. The night went as it usually did. The scene was shot. But then the man had second thoughts, Gitman remembers. He worried about repercussions, future embarrassment from having participated in the film.
And then he turned toward Gitman. "He looked at me like I was the devil," Gitman recalls, "and I felt like the devil."
It solidified Gitman's spiritual awakening. In the weeks prior, she'd been reading more and meditating frequently. She believed she had learned to cross over to a spiritual side, and that night, as the young man stared at her, spent and scared, she gave up the flesh trade.
"I think she found a greater mission in life," says an ex-boyfriend who asked that his name not be published due to his continued involvement in the local adult industry. "In porn, you can make a lot of money. Everybody knows that. But now Simone's looking for something more."
Two months ago, she placed advertisements in local newspapers, including this one, promoting a service called "Direct Dial God." Gitman, who now lives off the money she made in the porn industry, wants to be a disciple, helping others find God just as she's helped some of her friends.
"Simone always seemed out for herself," remembers Cindy Miller, a Hollywood woman who worked as a dominatrix for Gitman. "Now, she's a totally changed person. She has more of an understanding and respect for others. Since my meditation experience with her, I've noticed great things, positive changes in my life."
Gitman sits inches away from me on the couch, breathing deeply with my rhythm. I'm sitting in the imaginary white room, as she instructed. It's here that I'm supposed to find God or hear a voice from the great beyond. I do indeed see something in my mind: a shadow cast on a wall, viewed as if I'd placed my head too close to make out the entire image. It's uninspiring.
Yet Gitman is hopeful. "It'll take time," she says, kissing me on the cheek as I leave. "People need to realize that God is within them."
It took her a while. Now she feels it everywhere. But I'm still not sure I do.