Prostitutes flock to Super Bowls
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 4:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 4:43 p.m.
PHOENIX - Every year before the Super Bowl, Tammie Miller would gather her chinchilla coat and hop in a limo with her pimp. The host city, wherever it was, always offered a better supply of men than the lonesome highway in Long Beach, Calif., where she usually worked.
Miller was what's known as a "circuit girl," a traveling escort who, like any good entrepreneur, knows where the market is hot.
"We were in hotel lobbies, or out in front of the stadiums — wherever there were major amounts of people," said the 37-year-old Miller, who quit the business two years ago.
This year, Arizona authorities have stepped up patrols, promising to sweep out circuit girls and their pimps before next Sunday's Super Bowl.
But if the women are any good, Miller said, police won't see them.
"They had no idea what I was doing," she said.
Circuit girls are part of a clandestine sex trade that depends on their ability to blend with the wealthy. Unlike local street hookers, they'll navigate the high-dollar crowd with ease, tapping men on the shoulder with little more than an innocent suggestion on their lips.
"I would walk up to them and ask them directions or some kind of help," Miller said.
In Jacksonville, Fla., which hosted the Super Bowl in 2005, Roy Henderson, chief of narcotics in the Jacksonville sheriff's department, said his officers arrested about a dozen circuit girls after staff at one of the city's major hotels called to complain.
"I don't know if you can spot them," Henderson said. "A lot of times they're very attractive. They dress well, where typically your street walker is in blue jeans, flannel shirt, rough looking. Those are the ones we're picking up time and time again."
Henderson said policing prostitution at the Super Bowl clearly is not as important as monitoring security threats, but several officers will be assigned nevertheless. And he warns his counterparts in cities about to host the big game to be on the lookout.
"A lot of girls are advertising on the Internet, and it's a limited customer base that these girls had," Henderson said. "But you want to protect the innocent folks who don't want to be bothered by these individuals."
The Phoenix area, which already is known among hookers as a lucrative stop in the winter because of the snowbirds, is expected to be irresistible to sex workers this year.
The Fiesta Bowl already brought thousands of football fans to the region at the beginning of January. And the Super Bowl was preceded by the Barrett Jackson car show and will be played on the final day of the FBR Open golf tournament, both major draws for wealthy, vacationing men.
"It's a big deal this year," said Tammy Marie Pagel, a 31-year-old local hooker who was recently jailed in Phoenix but was scheduled to be released the week before the Super Bowl.
Pagel said she had a number of high-paying clients waiting. She counted them on her fingers: one from Colorado, one from Massachusetts, one from Florida, one from Tennessee.
The johns saw her ad on the Craigslist Web site and set up appointments before setting foot in Arizona, Pagel said. Each will pay $500 to $600 for an hour with her — several times what she typically charges.
Authorities don't know how many circuit girls typically descend on a Super Bowl city. But Phoenix police Sgt. Joel Trantor said officers will be ready for them.
"We're going after the prostitutes, the people that pander to prostitutes — the pimps — as well as the johns," Trantor said. "We're going to combat this from every angle."
Prostitutes who get caught face between 15 and 180 days in jail in Phoenix, depending on how many offenses they have on their record.
Miller said it didn't occur to her to leave the circuit until police arrested her a few years ago.
"I was addicted to the adrenaline I got from it," she said. "The adrenaline of getting in and out of cars. The adrenaline of being one step ahead of the cops. The adrenaline of, How much money can I make tonight?"
Miller laughs now when she thinks what she used to be. A black embroidered cardigan and turtle neck have replaced the street clothes. She's removed her pimp's initials — gold letters "M'' and "V'' — from her front teeth. People used to call her "Miss Envy."
"A lot of my life is really fuzzy to me because of all the drugs I was doing," she said. "But of course it changed me."
Miller became a traveling circuit girl in her early 20s, after a pimp kidnapped her while she was working the streets of west Phoenix. The pimp — his name is Vinnie — stopped the car in Long Beach and told her to "get to work" as one of his 13 girls.
"He had a different girl for different things," Miller said. "Like one would travel. If there was a trick that came from out of state and he'd call and he'd want her to come see him, (Vinnie) would fly that person out."
Some of Vinnie's girls would just walk along the highway.
"And me ... I was what he called his 'bottom,' which meant I was his top girl," she explained. "I bathed him; I clothed him. Everything."
Every summer, Miller said, Vinnie planned their circuit. Miller would pick one of the top earners from Vinnie's girls, and the three would hit the road. There would be stops in Fresno, Calif., and in Las Vegas. They'd arrive at the Super Bowl city three days before the game.
At times, Miller said, she felt rich. She gave all her money to Vinnie, but he bought her things. She had a Mercedes and wore fancy clothes. She lived in a beach house.
"That was like an incentive for us to stay," he said. "Oh, we get all these nice clothes. We get these nice things."
But as she got older, Miller said she prayed to get out of the business. She had four children, and she was tired of turning tricks. But her pimp wouldn't let her leave. He beat her with coat hangers and shoes.
Miller said it wasn't until police arrested her a few years ago that she mustered the strength to get away. She thought Vinnie loved her, but he left her in jail for two months.
"I was just so crushed that he let me sit," she said. "It hurt me so bad. This guy is like everything to me. My whole world."
That was when Miller said she found the DIGNITY House, a Phoenix-based rehabilitation program founded by a former prostitute and run by Catholic Charities in Arizona. The agency helped her find a job and put her up in a house.
With DIGNITY, Miller said she found her salvation. After two years, she is so free from the lifestyle that she hardly remembers the street words she used to sling back and forth with other hookers.
When she bumped into her pimp recently at a gas station, she did what she never could do before: She stood her ground.
"He came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey, I'm going to California. Are you ready?' And I said 'You know what, look, I'm not the person I used to be. I'm getting married, I don't need you.'"
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