A big scandal but little detail


FREDERICK -- Like a burlesque-show dancer, a local prostitution service's "black book" of customer names is providing this city just enough information to tantalize, but not enough to get anybody in trouble.

At least not yet.

After losing an open-records battle in court, the city released 82 pages of a call-girl operation's business records this week. The documents, a hot commodity as they were handed out yesterday at City Hall, contain hundreds of men's first and last names, many beside such women's names as "Angel," "Jade," "Dani" and "Nikki."

A price is listed -- most often $100 -- and an "n" or "r" appears on some of the pages, indicating whether the client was a new or a return customer, city officials said. But because there is no description of services rendered, scant conclusions can be drawn.

One is that "Nikki" must have been very busy during June of 1997 or 1998 -- her name appears beside that of countless men in that month's records. Another is that the city can't rid itself of a sex scandal going on since police seized records from Angelika Potter and her business in 1999.

And this is only the beginning. Within a week, more documents -- an expected 4,000 pages from the escort service -- are to be made public by the city, which is deleting private information such as credit card numbers.

The records include names, e-mail, transcripts of chat-room discussions on a sex-oriented Web site, photographs and videos, the city says. It's not certain whether the photos and videos feature clients or actors, said Nancy Gregg Poss, the city's spokeswoman.

"I do anticipate this next round [of records] will be juicier," she said.

So did lunch customers at a local microbrewery yesterday. "I expect there will be a lot of broken crockery and couch sleeping when the names come out," said diner Harry Gowl, owner of a local wireless-products company. "Unless most of the guys ... have already left town or covered their tracks."

One man who didn't skip town is former Alderman Blaine Young. In 2001, The Frederick News-Post reported that he was named in the still-secret records.

Young, who sells advertising and is host of a political talk show for a local radio station, said yesterday that he can't see the point of damaging more reputations.

"I don't know what it's going to accomplish by randomly printing names of people whose names might be fake," Young said. "Obviously, people, whether they admit it or not, enjoy reading about sex."

Young, 32, who said he did nothing illegal and was never charged with a crime, declined to describe his connection to the escort service.

"My private life is my private life," he said. "It made me realize what is important to me, which is my family and my career. There will be a time in life when I have to explain this to my children."

Though Young and elected officials say they are tired of the scandal, there seemed to be an appetite for it yesterday among residents of this city of 53,000. As the mayor and aldermen discussed tax assessments and other business during a routine meeting, a parade of people went to City Hall to collect copies of the records.

"Someone asked me for one and said it was for her grandmother," said Bonnie Berger, who works behind the building's wood-paneled reception desk. "Two different guys said a copy was for their boss. Everybody's curious for different reasons."

No one seemed to be finding any public officials on the lists. "I haven't heard anybody yet say, 'Oh, my God!' as they are reading," Poss said.

Some Frederick residents who aren't public figures said their biggest fear is that a client may have used their name. "I have an odd name, so I don't have to worry about that, but what if I had a common name?" said Lacoe Alltop, who owns a chain of area flower shops.

Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty says she hasn't reviewed the documents and doesn't know whose names are listed. The city was ordered to make the records public by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The News-Post, the Associated Press and a private citizen initiated a legal battle for their release several years ago after then-Mayor James S. Grimes asserted that releasing the list out of context could subject the city to legal liability.

The scandal began as a gambling investigation.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle says his office received a report about five years ago concerning an escort service conducting an illegal raffle. It turned into a prostitution investigation after city police looked into the service's operations.

"Call me naive, but I didn't think Frederick had call-girl operations. No one had ever complained about it before," Rolle said. "We knew we had street prostitution."

He said his office didn't prosecute the case because a witness turned out to be a relative of one of his employees. He turned the case over to Montgomery County, which in 2000 accepted a guilty plea from Potter on charges of "operating a house of assignation" and fined her $100.

From the beginning, Rolle said, the case has produced an array of rumors. Some residents accused the city Police Department of using the list to manipulate city officials who may have been named. Police and other officials vehemently denied that allegation.

As she ran for mayor in 2001, Dougherty called the scandal an embarrassment. "We've become a comic strip. We've become Dogpatch," she said.

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