PHOENIX – Tracy Elise (D.O.B. 12/20/1960), the self-proclaimed Mother High Priestess of the Phoenix Goddess Temple, been ordered to serve a term of 4.5 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections for operating a house of prostitution. Under the terms of the sentence imposed today by Judge Sherry Stephens, Elise will also be placed on supervised probation for a period of 4 years following her release.
“Today’s sentence underscores the failure of the Defendant’s persistent efforts to escape the consequences of her criminal actions by portraying them as an exercise of religious freedom,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Her time in prison will provide an opportunity to reflect on the harm she has caused by objectifying and degrading other women and subjecting them to what was no more than an exchange of money for the sexual gratification of others.”
In March, 2011, detectives with the Phoenix Police Department learned that an establishment known as the Phoenix Goddess Temple was operating a prostitution enterprise under the guise of being a religious institution. News reports about the temple described employees, known as “Goddesses,” offering various sexual acts in exchange for monetary donations ranging from $204 to $650. The temple advertised these services on backpage.com, a website frequently used to facilitate acts of prostitution. Customers, known as “seekers” in the jargon used by the temple, could make appointments by phone with specific temple “practitioners” or “healers,” who would perform different sex acts in exchange for a donation to the temple.
In the course of their investigation, police observed males and females entering the temple throughout the day and night. They also determined that the temple’s founder, Tracy Elise, had been ordered to cease operations and liquidate the business entity that operated the temple. Working undercover, investigators learned that temple healers were required to complete a series of classes and perform sex acts according to a Practitioner Handbook, which included information on how much each session would cost. Customers who did not leave the required donation were not allowed to return to the temple.
Elise had operated a similar temple in Seattle, which was raided and shut down by the Seattle Police Department. She was also forced to cease operations in other locations by zoning departments after citizens complained to police that a brothel was being run in their neighborhoods.
After a six-month investigation, 18 individuals were arrested and indicted on multiple offenses including conspiracy, illegal control of an enterprise, and operating a house of prostitution. All of the defendants except Tracy Elise waived their right to a trial and agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for sentences of varying lengths of probation.
Elise chose to represent herself and rejected multiple attempts to resolve the case. After a 48-day trial, it took the jury less than four hours to issue guilty verdicts on the remaining 22 counts in the indictment, which included two counts of illegal control of an enterprise, one count of operating a house of prostitution; 13 counts of money laundering; and six counts of pandering.