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    Ex-escort describes the cyber brothel

    Private Pets, operated via the Internet from a Hillsborough home, was run as a "full-service escort agency,'' says the 21-year-old mother.

    By LOGAN D. MABE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


    CITRUS PARK -- Amber Griffith, a 21-year-old pregnant mother of two, has experience working as an escort. She knows the drill.

    "You go on dates with people. That's about it," Griffith said Friday, a day after her arrest on racketeering charges. "It's just basically someone who wants a girlfriend for the night."

    But when Griffith signed on with Private Pets, an escort service run though the Internet, she said owner John Robert Hubard wanted much more from his employees.

    "He was looking for girls that did everything, but not all of us did that," said Griffith, who said she insisted on a hands-off policy with her dates. "He told us straight out when he interviewed us that, "We are a full-service escort agency.' . . . I've worked in this business before and that's not anything that I expected."

    Hillsborough sheriff's investigators say Hubard operated a Web site that advertised a gallery of women available to customers for $300 an hour. Hubard, 32, faces prostitution and racketeering charges when he is found. He remained at large Friday evening.

    His partner, Eric Caldwell, 31, who ran a Private Pets service in North Carolina, was arrested Monday.

    Hubard directed Private Pets from his home in the bucolic Fawn Ridge subdivision just south of Citrus Park Town Center, the snazzy mall on Sheldon Road, police said. The unremarkable two-story beige house, which is up for sale, sits on a corner lot on Key West Circle and blends into the sameness of the neighborhood.

    Until recently, Hubard shared the home with his wife, Laila. Neighbors thought they were parents of two girls.

    "It was shocking," said Lynn Murray, who lives several houses down from the Hubard home. "I came home (Thursday) and saw some news trucks here. The neighbors were teasing each other, saying, "What'd you do now?' I'm a schoolteacher and a lot of us have such normal jobs."

    More normal, police say, than Hubard's occupation. The Web site, which has been shut down, was the "storefront" for his cyber brothel.

    Janesguide.com, a Web site that reviews Internet adult industry services, gave Private Pets kudos.

    "This site is an interesting twist on most escort services," Janesguide reviewer Jim Duval wrote in January 2000. "The service only has two escorts working in it and appointments are via online form. Each escort has a page with a paragraph bio, a couple of reviews, one pic and a rate sheet. If the service had more variety this would be a good bet but as it is now it is a bit thin."

    But over the course of the last year, authorities say, Hubard was able to expand the Private Pets lineup considerably. Griffith was one of five women from Tampa and Largo arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering. A sixth woman, Teresa Jones of Palm Harbor, described as Private Pets' third owner, also was arrested on prostitution and racketeering charges.

    Griffith said she answered a classified ad in June and worked for Hubard for about three months before quitting. "Once I started realizing that everything was going on, I said, "No, never mind,' and I got out of the business," Griffith said. Private Pets charged clients $200 per hour for Griffith's company; her share was $140.

    But Hubard kept her photos and bio up on the Web site. "It's bad enough that my family has seen all my pictures," Griffith said. "It's like you're working at McDonald's and your boss does something wrong and you get dragged down with him."

    Griffith, seven months pregnant with her third child, said she's unemployed now, but is going to night school. She said she hopes to be a veterinarian someday.

    While Griffith is reluctant to talk to investigators until she gets an attorney, she eagerly detailed her experiences with Hubard.

    "He was trustworthy at first. Then you learned who he is," Griffith said. "Like how he's back-stabbing all of us."

    - Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 813-226-3464 or at mabe@sptimes.com.

    Recent coverage

    Eight are arrested in Web sex operation (February 16, 2001)

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