A shocked Arizona community found out today that the Phoenix Goddess Temple, which appeared to be a church on the outside, was really a house of prostitution.
Phoenix police say they spent the last six months working an undercover operation digging into the business in Maricopa County. Investigators say they discovered workers performing sex acts on customers.
Evidence gathered by detectives revealed that male and female “practitioners” working at the Temple were in fact performing sexual acts in exchange for spiritual monetary “donations.”
This was all under the guise of providing “Neo Tantric” healing therapies, which is an act that promises sexual excitement and emotional needs in an aura of spirituality.
During the investigation, police discovered the Goddess Temple was operating another alleged house of prostitution in Sedona, Ariz., which was also raided this week.
The Goddess Temple founder, Tracy Elise, is known within her business as "Mystic Mother," and was also arrested along with 17 other "spiritual servants."
The "temple" was constructed in a way that customers were taken to rooms with themes, with one room being tagged as a "water theme" that had a whirlpool and waves painted on the walls.
Another room had been decorated with Egyptian artwork, investigators said.
The employees talked in code to customers. For instance, the “johns” were called “seekers" and a sex act was called a “sacred union.”
The organization's website is no longer available online, but its philosophy was described as "body centric."
Investigators said the website claimed "No part of you is ever left out when you are in the presence of the Mother, our Divine Creatrix of physical form.”
The prices for each “session” ranged from $204 to $650.
"Although it is not uncommon for criminals to hide their criminal acts from law enforcement, it is particularly disheartening that some would attempt to disguise their crimes as religious freedom,” said Acting Phoenix Police Chief Joseph Yahner in a statement Saturday.
After searching the premises, detectives arrested 18 individuals connected with the prostitution ring. All of the suspects were indicted on charges of prostitution, pandering and conspiracy.
Maricopa County Bill Montgomery, whose office will lead the prosecution of the individuals named in the indictment, said the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion does not allow individuals to trade sex for money, no matter how the transaction is portrayed.
"We're not viewing this in any way as somehow protected by the first amendment. This is not religious expression,” Montgomery said.
“We are now in a position to hold these so-called healers accountable for allegedly running brothels in residential neighborhoods and we will protect our community from the impact of criminal enterprises no matter how they may be characterized.”