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From the banal to the bawdy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FREDERICK -- The pornographic movie wasn't ready for sale, but 8,500 pages of titillating reading were in the offing yesterday at Frederick's newest smut shop -- a clean, well-lighted place known as City Hall.

Thus did the 5-year-old saga of the so-called "black book" begin its most salacious chapter, with the city's legal staff opening to the public a trove of records obtained during a 1999 police raid on a local porn and prostitution business run by Angelika Potter.

The crush of early customers -- all but a few of the first 20 were reporters -- pored over client lists and business correspondence in search of bombshells. But apart from an old e-mail sent from a now-defunct address of a New York congressman's staff (someone promoting his talents as a beefcake dancer named BAMBAM), there appeared to be little information of value for anyone but local gossips and divorce attorneys.

What the records offered most were peeks at the daily ebb and flow of the storefront sex trade, a quirky collection of e-mails ranging from the banal to the bawdy. Consider, for example, this request from a customer called KMan, who wrote to Potter:

"Here's my script for the video we discussed. First, I would like Deanna to introduce herself on camera and tell me how much she like[s] to dial payphones. Then, she can walk real slow and seductive up to the payphone. Then, I would like to see [her] dial a payphone repeatedly for 20-30 minutes. I would also like her [to] vary how she dials the phone. I would like her to dial sometimes with her index finger, middle finger, thumb, etc. I would like to see her dial at least once with all of her fingers. However, most of the time she can just dial naturally. Thanks."

On the tame side

Other items were tamer than they initially seemed. An e-mail mention of a hot number named Cocoa, described as "a skinny little biting machine from the islands, mon!," turned out to be a reference to a pet pooch, as part of an online conversation between owners of basset hounds. ("Does anyone know if eating grass can cause bloat?" was the opener). Besides being a madam and a porn queen, Potter is a devoted dog owner.

She is also a user of eBay. Auction details involving Furbies and Steiff bears are sandwiched between transactions involving escorts named Nikki and Danielle. Shortly after a jet-setting Seattle businessman inquires whether a Potter employee can meet him at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, another prospective customer with very different needs writes, "I would like a white furby with blue eyes and a gray furby with pink stomach and brown eyes."

Potter also fielded job applications online.

"A lot of girls make a lot of money here," she wrote to a woman who had sent an impressive photo. "So give me a call and I can explain to you how you can make a ton of money without a lot of work."

Someone named Christie wrote, "Let me know by e-mail if you ever decide to expand to Colorado. I would be glad to help anyway possible." A West Virginia husband and wife in their mid-40s volunteered to videotape themselves in action at their mountain cabin for Potter's porn Web site, free of charge, explaining, "We would like to do something a little crazy before we settle down. You know, something to talk about [and] smile about in our rocking chair someday."

Interest piqued

Yesterday's media turnout suggested such items are of national interest. Representatives of CNN and The New York Times were among reporters and camera crews from 15 news outlets on hand. They shot pictures and video footage of each other at work, and they rummaged through cardboard boxes of papers stacked on tables in the second-floor foyer of City Hall, just outside the office of Frederick's chief legal services officer, Heather Price Smith.

This impromptu reading room will be in business for at least a week. Once demand slackens, customers may get a private viewing room.

And by then the X-rated compact disc will be available.

City spokeswoman Nancy Gregg Poss said the CD is apparently a hodgepodge of images -- still photos and mini-movies. "Heather Price Smith recognized some of the prostitutes on it," Poss said, "so chances are it's homemade from Mrs. Potter and her business."

No one knows which room will be offered for such viewings, but the doors will be kept closed so that visiting schoolchildren and passing tour groups don't get an inadvertent eyeful. You'll have to be 18 to sign up. Anyone who wants a copy can order one for $20. (Or you can take home a copy of everything -- the CD, the 8,500 pages, and three police surveillance and interrogation videotapes -- for $3,000.)

Porn jokes aside, the city didn't particularly want to have to be the distributor or presenter of the lewd CD, but an opinion from the Maryland attorney general's office advised that it had to be part of the offerings once a court deemed that the "black book" trove should be opened to the public.

The big splash yesterday had humble beginnings. Potter ended up paying only a $100 fine after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of maintaining a "place of assignation." As part of the deal, the police made copies of her records and then returned the originals to her. That might have been the end of it if a community leader hadn't spoken out more than a year later at a public meeting, saying police were blackmailing local officials by using information from their copy.

A later investigation concluded that that accusation was groundless, but in the meantime the local newspaper, the Frederick News-Post, had joined private citizen Daniel Trey and the Associated Press in suing to open up the records. In the early going, some of the records were shredded and some were released, but most stayed under wraps. Poss said that copies of the shredded records might be retrieved from floppy disks being processed.

This month, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided the matter once and for all, ruling that the city had to release the "black book." The city released the first 82 pages last week -- the first collection of client lists and transaction ledgers -- while saving the bulk for yesterday's event.

Third in line at City Hall yesterday morning was Trey, whose lawsuit helped set everything in motion.

"What I'm looking for is the part they shredded," he said, hinting at deeper, darker revelations in days to come. "They thought they were in the clear."

Potter, meanwhile, has dropped out of sight, at least so far as Frederick is concerned. Her escort service closed, and officials say she has left town. Her old phone number no longer works, although the pornographic Web site she has run since 1996 is still in business. But yesterday, at least, City Hall was getting more walk-in traffic.

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