PHOENIX, Arizona — Police in Arizona have arrested 20 members of an American group called the “Goddess Temple” for allegedly offering sexual services online under the guise of religious healing.
Officers went undercover and are working to track down another 17 suspects, said Phoenix Police Sergeant Steve Martos, with more arrests expected soon.
The probe into the Goddess Temple lasted six months, culminating in raids on September 7 in Phoenix and in the northern Arizona city of Sedona, a tourist haven.
Detectives gathered evidence proving male and female “practitioners” were performing sexual acts in exchange for monetary “donations” under the guise of offering religious services, said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office will lead the prosecution.
Among those arrested was Goddess Temple Founder Tracy Elise, who was the target of a similar investigation involving a suspected brothel in Seattle, Washington state, which was shut down in 2009.
Elise faces charges of prostitution, illegal control of an enterprise, pandering and operating a house of prostitution. Others named in an indictment face counts of conspiracy, prostitution and offering massage without a license.
“We are now in a position to hold these so-called healers accountable for allegedly running brothels in residential neighborhoods,” said Montgomery.
“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.”
Acting Phoenix Police Chief, Joseph Yahner, added: “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.”
According to an ABC News report, the temple offered sessions on sex-ed and sex-toy classes and even promoted a session designed “heal sexual blockages” for around $650.