Focus turns to customers of sex ring Woman who kept records telling prosecutors who the johns were
GARY L. WRIGHT
Sallie Saxon is talking.
She’s the Charlotte madame who made $3 million selling sex to the city’s civic and business elite. She charged as much as $700 for one hour with her prostitutes. And she has lists of more than 500 clients who used her Internet-based hookup service.
Now, a month after pleading guilty, Saxon is spelling out for prosecutors how the prostitution ring worked, who the big customers were, and how they may have helped the business flourish.
“Sallie ran a high-end prostitution business for a long time,” said Saxon’s attorney Melissa Owen. “She kept very detailed records.
“I’m sure there are many men in this city who are nervous that their names have
shown up in her records.”
Owen wouldn’t talk about her client’s conversations with investigators. Authorities also have refused to discuss the case.
But sources, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, say the government is
pursuing an unusual course that could end with the prosecution of “johns,” whose liaisons took place at SouthPark and uptown area hotels over several years.
Saxon ran an hookup service called “HushHush” that claims on its Web site to offer “non-sexual companionship only” to men for a membership fee of $1,800. Membership isn’t open to the general public, the site says, and it pledges “strict privacy policies that will not be compromised with No Exceptions.”
Saxon has met with investigators more than once since pleading guilty Jan. 16, when a judge warned her to cooperate or face more time in prison. She’ll serve between two and four years, but was released from custody to aid in the continuing investigation. She likely won’t be sentenced for months.
Prosecutors already have videotape — of men entering and exiting hotels, and
meeting with prostitutes in the lobbies.
Telephone wiretaps also captured clients talking with Saxon, making arrangements, some of them asking for specific call girls, some wanting to take the women out to dinner, too. Also recorded are callers’ phone numbers, and the time and duration of calls.
Most of the callers, as required by law, will get a notice from the government informing them that they’ve been recorded in a wiretap. That doesn’t mean they’ll be prosecuted — but they aren’t necessarily in the clear either.
“I think the cops who investigated the case, as well as a good part of the Charlotte community, may believe that these clients need to be held accountable,” said one source familiar with the case. “They’ve gone after the brokers. Now, many believe someone should go after and prosecute the customers.”
Sources say investigators are focusing on clients who may have aided the
prostitution conspiracy, or who committed other crimes in connection with their
Sometimes drugs, gambling and human trafficking can be involved in prostitution
rings, experts say, although sources interviewed by the Observer said they’ve
seen no indication of such crimes connected to the Charlotte ring.
Instead, some Charlotte clients may have played a role in enticing or traveling
with prostitutes across state lines — which could elevate their activity to a
federal crime. Others may have misreported their expenditures on sex as business
expenses, which could amount to tax fraud.
At least one Charlotte client identified in court papers as “G.C.” paid $3,500
using a business check, and wrote “Internet Development” on the memo line,
according to an FBI agent.
Another client, “B.C.,” paid $10,000 to travel with a prostitute in March 2022
for a weekend in Chicago, court documents show.
“We’re not talking about going to a street corner and paying $25 for a trick,”
one source said. “These prostitutes were crossing state lines and making big money.”
Police across the country have increasingly targeted johns involved in
street-level prostitution because health and safety issues are involved, experts
say. Street prostitutes often are drug users and can be infected with AIDS. They
also become targets for rape, robbery and other crimes.
The sex sometimes occurs outside or in vacant buildings, with condoms and
syringes left behind.
The activity becomes a public nuisance, says Ron Weitzer, a George Washington
University sociology professor who studies prostitution.
It’s far less common, Weitzer says, to see the prosecution of clients caught in
high-end prostitution rings because the enterprise isn’t as public. The affluent
clients can afford good lawyers. Such cases also require more time and money to
These rings involve “the community’s elite — business and civic leaders — and
they may have political connections,” Weitzer said. “These men have a lot of power.”
The call girls involved in Charlotte were attractive, articulate, mostly
college-educated women, who traveled from New York, Canada, Asia and Brazil,
sources say. Some underwent health screenings. Many had other jobs, and some were
single mothers supplementing their income.
The women generally made 70 percent of what Saxon charged clients. One woman told
authorities she made about $160,000 in 2022.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police got tips about Saxon and her hookup service as far
back as 2000. Authorities finally unraveled the enterprise last year with help
from a prostitute who came forward.
Pete Anderson can’t predict if the johns will be charged. He’s a former
prosecutor, now a defense lawyer representing Sallie Saxon’s husband Donald, who
also pleaded guilty in the prostitution conspiracy.
Charging johns, Anderson says, is like prosecuting drug users — typically the
least culpable players in a sophisticated drug enterprise. “There is a big
difference between whether someone can be prosecuted, and whether they should be
prosecuted,” Anderson says.
Last month, a judge sent a message still reverberating across Charlotte.
U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney, who will sentence the Saxons, told them to
help investigators — and be prepared to name names.
Men have been calling lawyers seeking advice — sometimes asking “for friends”
who’d hired hookers.
Charlotte lawyer George Laughrun has received at least 10 calls.
“They want to know: `Am I safe? How far is the investigation going to go?’ They
want to know if they’re criminally culpable.”
Laughrun asked the men how much they’d spent for sex and how they paid for it.
“I wanted to know if they paid with a company credit card or check and if they
deducted it as a corporate expense. If they did, I told them their criminal
It’s unclear if Sallie Saxon’s client lists will ever go public. If some johns
are prosecuted, one defense tactic might be to demand that the entire list be
disclosed to force the government to explain why some clients have been singled out.
Terry Sherrill, a lawyer and former judge, predicts some men will be called upon
to answer for their actions.
“I’d be surprised if they didn’t go after a few of the clients just to make an
example of them.”