Studio owner arrested in prostitution bust pleads not guiltyPosted: Updated:
PHOENIX (AP) -- The owner of a Phoenix studio that allegedly used pornography as a front for prostitution has pleaded not guilty in the case.
Maricopa County prosecutors say 52-year-old William James Hartwell entered his plea Monday. His next scheduled court date is Aug. 21.
Hartwell and eight women were arrested June 20 following a police raid of the business near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, on 40th St. south of University Drive.
The business, which has been operating under the name New Media Studios, allegedly lured clients who wanted to star in their own adult films. But Phoenix police and FBI agents described the business as a "house of prostitution".
"For $140, for 30 minutes, they would allow customers to come and pick a female and have sex while still photos and videos were taken," Sgt. Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said.
Police said Hartwell ran the operation. The women were acting as prostitutes in his employ.
But Hartwell told authorities that his studio ran "a safe, legal business."
Investigators say the studio frequently placed ads in the adult-services sections of websites like backpage.com, asking for models and promoting services for new clients.
According to court documents, a female undercover officer infiltrated the operation, pretending to be interested in a job advertised online.
The business had been operating for a little more than a year when it was busted. The Phoenix Police Department and the FBI had been investigating the business for six months before gathering enough evidence to serve a search warrant.