Info:Correction Date: 09/16/1999
The Sex Empire Strikes Back
Adult businesses in Broward put the heat on the heat by investigating local vice cops, but their evidence is slim
By Paul Demko
In late May, Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle, Broward County state attorney Michael Satz, and other local politicians and upholders of the law received an eye-catching delivery at their offices: the June issue of Xcitement magazine.
The cover of the glossy magazine features a naked Jasmin St. Claire (owner of the "world gang bang record," according to the accompanying article) crawling on the beach as waves crash behind her. The bulk of the publication consists of advertisements for local strip clubs, escort services, and other adult businesses, all hawking their wares with plenty of exposed flesh.
The men responsible for this free gift were hoping, however, that Broward County's bigwigs would pay more attention to one specific article. On page 32 of Xcitement, just past the ad for Gum Wrappers ("Home of the $10 Friction & $5 Table Tops"), is an update from the National Association of Adult Business (NAAB), a year-old local organization that defends sex businesses from the ever-present and often-encroaching arm of law enforcement. The update details an investigation that the association has conducted into the background of Det. Barry Margolis, a 17-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Among the allegations levied against Margolis are that he lied about earning a degree from the University of Maryland, that he lied about working for the Montgomery County Fire Department, also in Maryland, and that he may have perjured himself on numerous occasions when testifying in court. The section on the 54-year-old detective ends with Rodney Kay, founder of the NAAB, referring to Margolis as "Detective Pinocchio!"
The NAAB is getting plenty of mileage out of its attack. By turning the tables on the cops and siccing private investigators on Margolis, the NAAB has prompted inquiries by the internal affairs department of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and the Broward County State Attorney's Office. A Broward County grand jury is presently weighing whether any charge should be filed against Margolis.
A closer examination of the allegations, however, shows that the NAAB is guilty of exactly what they charge the cops with: trumped up accusations and misrepresentations of facts.
Margolis may be just the first of Fort Lauderdale's finest to feel the vindictive ire of the NAAB, which has more than 200 dues-paying members. (Membership costs $200 annually for a business and $50 for an individual.) Kay and company have already compiled a hit list of future targets for investigations. It names three other Fort Lauderdale vice detectives, including Sgt. Gary Daughenbaugh. The sex entrepreneurs also plan to muck around for dirt on assistant state attorney John Hanlon, who failed to file charges against Margolis after reviewing the accusations, and on Capt. James Wigand, of the Fort Lauderdale police department's internal affairs office, who is in the midst of an investigation of these charges.
Additionally, to help ferret out allegations of wrongdoing by vice cops -- of either a professional or personal nature -- the NAAB will soon begin offering a $10,000 reward to the public "for any information on any of the vice detectives that will lead to their dismissal." In essence Kay wants to become the Larry Flynt of South Florida. Instead of publishing details of sexual hypocrisy by politicians, he is going after the police officers who help put sex shops out of business.
"That sword is going to be hanging over their heads continuously from now on," says Kay, who owns the Pleasure Zone, a Pompano Beach store that brags in its advertisements, "If it has to do with sex, we have it!!" In addition to fighting the police, the NAAB supports sex-friendly political candidates and is working to repeal Broward County's restrictive 1993 adult-business ordinance.
This is not the first time that Margolis has been the object of the adult-entertainment industry's scorn. The Fort Lauderdale vice detective is public enemy number one among Broward County's sex-business owners. In his six years on the vice squad, he has aggressively investigated dozens of adult businesses, incarcerating employees, owners, and people allegedly involved with illegally selling sex. He has suffered lap dances, strip shows, and solicitations by prostitutes, all in the name of upholding the decency standards of a municipality recently featured on an A&E television show subtitled "Sin in the Sun."
The contempt of the NAAB for Margolis is driven primarily by the detective's investigation of Arthur VanMoor, the 39-year-old owner of Amber's Escorts. Margolis and his fellow vice officers spent more than a year attempting to shut down VanMoor's escort service, believing it to be nothing more than a front for prostitution. Despite arresting VanMoor on numerous counts of racketeering and profiting from prostitution, the State Attorney's Office initially declined to file any charges. The Fort Lauderdale police had documented various acts of prostitution committed by VanMoor's escorts but were unable to show that the owner himself had knowledge of the unlawful activities. What the girls do on their dates, VanMoor claimed, is beyond his control. The business continues to operate with impunity, providing escorts to as many as 1000 men each month.
Although police failed to nab VanMoor on the most serious accusations, he was charged last August on three counts of unlawful sexual activity, three counts of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution, and one count of profiting from prostitution. The criminal trial could start as early as next month. VanMoor is now suing Margolis for $500,000 and says he will file "the mother of all malicious-prosecution suits" once he is exonerated. (VanMoor does not acknowledge the possibility of being found guilty.)
VanMoor says he's going after Margolis "because he's the biggest liar of them all. Daughenbaugh is next, and maybe more," he claims. VanMoor sees Margolis as being at the heart of a great law-enforcement conspiracy against him. He accuses the detective of destroying evidence, lying about evidence, and attempting to have him evicted from his home, among other things.
According to the NAAB, the only difference between VanMoor and countless other adult-business owners is that he has the nerve -- and the money -- to fight back. "This vice unit is used to operating by using a certain methodology," claims Kay, "and that methodology is to pressure adult-business owners out of business."
In the case of Margolis, however, the NAAB seems to be guilty of using its own questionable methods -- namely premature character assassination. The group's charges against Margolis are spotty at best.
For instance, the NAAB's allegation that Margolis never worked for the Montgomery County Fire Department as he claimed on job applications is technically true -- but also misleading. A countywide fire department does not exist in Montgomery County. Margolis did, however, work in the '60s and '70s for a fire department in Kensington, Maryland, according to officials there. His paychecks came from the county government.
Another accusation levied by the NAAB is that Margolis perjured himself in a 1998 civil deposition by claiming that he held a college degree from the University of Maryland. Margolis testified that he had a "degree in fire engineering" from the University of Maryland. When pressed on the matter during a later deposition taken by the State Attorney's Office, Margolis acknowledged that he never received a degree from the University. In the deposition Margolis claims it was an honest mistake caused by the stress of the testimony. "I was... I was very agitated while I gave that deposition," he told the State Attorney's Office earlier this year.
Broward County assistant state attorney John Hanlon examined all of the perjury evidence compiled by VanMoor and the NAAB earlier this year -- a several-inch-thick, fuchsia-colored tome -- and concluded that no charge would be pressed. Hanlon concluded that "the discrepancies as pointed out by defense counsel are either not material to the issues in dispute, are not clearly false, are not perjurious, are mere expressions of opinion and/or typographical errors." A grand jury in Broward County is now examining the allegations.
Other accusations made by the NAAB, whether true or not, are just plain petty. The NAAB, for example, claims that Margolis was merely a busboy, or perhaps a host, when he worked at the Flaming Pit Restaurant in Pompano Beach 20 years ago rather than the assistant manager that his job applications advertised. The group also accuses Margolis of lying on job applications because he sometimes gives two different reasons for leaving a previous job.
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(Margolis, Sergeant Daughenbaugh, and internal affairs investigator Wigand all said they could not comment for this article, citing ongoing investigations.)
Kay is not deterred by discrepancies between his depiction of the allegations against Margolis and the facts -- and he clings to his belief that the vice squad is a threat to society. "We don't have a problem with them doing their jobs," Kay says unconvincingly, "but we're gonna make sure they're doing their jobs right. We're gonna let them know that we can investigate them too."
Contact Paul Demko at his e-mail address: Paul_Demko@newtimesbpb.com
Because of a reporting error, a criminal charge facing Arthur VanMoor, owner of Amber's Escorts, was misstated in an article ("The Sex Empire Strikes Back," Paul Demko, July 8). The article stated, based upon erroneous court records, that VanMoor is facing three counts of procuring a person under the age of 16 for prostitution. The charge is actually three counts of procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution. VanMoor has pleaded not guilty. We regret the error.