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Raid finds alleged 'sex dungeon'

After a tip leads deputies to a black-walled room, a woman is arrested on a prostitution charge.

By LETITIA STEIN and DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published February 19, 2005


photo
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Cynthia Stathopoulos, also known as LuLu Devine, says the allegations against her are ridiculous. "I'm a lot of things,
but I'm not a prostitute," she said Friday.


 
Cynthia Stathopoulos long performed as an exotic dancer under the stage name LuLu Devine, as shown in this photo from a scrapbook she keeps. She says she is now retired.

BRANDON - LuLu Devine has danced in adult clubs from Boston to Australia. She keeps a poster in her home that refers to her chest as the "Eighth and Ninth Wonders of the World." In her heyday, she got publicity for jumping fences to smooch baseball players in front of the cameras.

But never, ever, she says, would she sell her body for sex, or run a sex dungeon from her suburban Brandon home, as the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has alleged. "I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a prostitute," said Devine, who police say is 49 and legally named Cynthia Stathopoulos.

She called the accusations ridiculous. "First of all, I'm gay," she said.

Sheriff's deputies raided her house Thursday night and arrested her on a misdemeanor charge of prostitution.

She was surprised, she said, when officials announced the discovery of a "dungeon" in her two-bedroom home in a working class neighborhood off Bloomingdale Avenue.

Sheriff's officials say they found a room with black walls, whips and chains - a dungeon because she was charging people for sex there, deputies allege.

But Devine said it's not illegal to own those things. She showed a reporter the room in question. A man-sized cage with fake skeletons sat in the corner, next to a desk with a home computer. Devine also kept her pet squirrel, Gonzo, there.

"It's not even a dungeon," she said. "It's just a little office."

A raid on a sex dungeon is unusual, but kinky sex is nothing new to suburbia. It often flies under the radar screen, experts say, because most introductions are made online.

"The Internet has really allowed people to ... find like-minded individuals who like to engage in the same sort of very different sex play from the rest of society," said Lawrence Walters, an Orlando First Amendment lawyer specializing in adult entertainment cases.

After posting $250 bail to get out of jail, Devine gave an interview at her dining room table Friday morning.

Her night in jail, she said, was closer to a dungeon than anything in her home.

Sheriff's officials said they received information about her engaging in prostitution. A search on the Internet revealed numerous Web sites with Devine's photos, including at least two where she seeks men to be "slaves."

Devine, who describes herself as a retired exotic dancer, says her photos appear on many Web sites without her permission.

Deputies said that, in Internet and phone conversations with an undercover detective earlier this month, and then in person, Devine offered to perform sex acts in exchange for $850, according to an arrest affidavit.

Deputies say Devine's "dungeon" was illegal.

"It'll all come out in court," said sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.

Devine said she thinks her partner's ex-girlfriend was responsible for tipping off police to the Internet sites. She said the e-mails with the undercover officer didn't come from her.

She said she remembered requests for sex acts in a phone conversation with the man who turned out to be an undercover officer. She never agreed to perform the acts, she said. Describing herself as a talker, Devine said she may have created confusion by saying "yeah, yeah, yeah."

Devine said she retired from exotic dancing about 10 years ago but still invites the occasional customer to her house for private dances.

"All you do is stand there," she said, wiggling her hips in demonstration.

The Sheriff's Office said that while a prostitution arrest rarely makes headlines, cases involving dungeons are few and far between.

The trick with these cases can be getting the charges to stick.

"If sexual activity is going on and it's for money and people are paying for sex, then clearly the prostitution law will apply," said Walters, the First Amendment lawyer. "Often it's tough to prove what people are paying for, what they're doing. Operating a dungeon does not mean anything more than they were operating a dungeon."

There have been other similar arrests in the past decade in the Tampa Bay area.

In a high-profile 1995 case, people who used the names "Master Troy" and "Mistress Shannon" were arrested at a dungeon in a Thonotosassa home, where clients paid by the hour to use a room filled with contraptions that included a fur-lined pillory.

Terry Lynn Thomas - "Master Troy" - insisted his was a legitimate business for consenting adults with unusual interests. But he pleaded guilty to 15 charges and got three years of probation. Jena Zellar - "Mistress Shannon" - got two years of probation. The state dropped felony racketeering charges against them.

As for Devine, she maintains that she shouldn't have been arrested.

"I think they should be focusing on home security," she said, "and not poor little showgirls that need money."

Times researchers John Martin and Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

[Last modified February 19, 2005, 01:19:00]


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