Sex-ring madam given 2-year term

Former prostitute Sallie Saxon, who built one of the most sophisticated Internet-based prostitution rings in the country, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison.

“Oh no, your honor,” she cried when the judge ordered that she be taken into custody.

Moments later, the 58-year-old Charlotte madam was handcuffed, weeping and whispering to family in the courtroom: “I'm sorry.”

Her husband, Donald Saxon, sobbed.

Sallie Saxon's high-priced call-girl service drew some 1,900 clients and employed hundreds of hookers over several years. Liaisons took place at hotels around SouthPark and uptown, as well as in Chicago and Las Vegas. She made as much as $3 million, prosecutors said.

In a letter to the judge, Saxon explained how she turned to prostitution years ago to support herself and her children after leaving an abusive marriage. She was approached by a “powerful Charlotte CEO” and fearfully accepted his financial offer to entertain him and his associates. She didn't disclose the identity of the businessman.

Saxon's arrest in November and her promise to cooperate attracted widespread public attention – prompting some of her clients to call lawyers for advice.

Two “johns” have already pleaded guilty in connection with Saxon's prostitution ring. And Tuesday, the prosecutor suggested more clients may face charges.

Before being sentenced, Saxon told U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney: “I'm deeply humiliated … I'm guilty.

“I did choose the wrong way. I was wrong. The money was the lure.”

Whitney later lectured her.

“Prostitution turns sex into a grotesque tool for profit,” the judge said. “It impedes the creation of families. And it causes the collapse of families.”

Saxon pleaded guilty to conspiring to entice women to cross state lines to engage in prostitution and conspiring to commit money laundering. She faced four years in prison but cut a deal with prosecutors calling for her to provide details about her operation and extensive client list.

She also agreed to forfeit to the government more than $650,000 in cash and property, including her home on Coatbridge Lane in southeast Charlotte, jewelry valued at more than $37,000 and gold coins worth more than $10,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen painted Saxon as a shrewd businesswoman who built one of the country's largest and most profitable Internet-based prostitution rings.

“This was her baby. She built this enterprise,” Cullen said. “She created a destination city in Charlotte for white-collar prostitution.”

Saxon called her service “HushHush,” which claimed on its Web site to offer “non-sexual companionship” for a membership fee of $1,800. Saxon charged as much as $700 an hour for her prostitutes.

In May 2007, one of the HushHush prostitutes tipped off the FBI. Investigators collected videotape of men entering and exiting hotels and meeting with prostitutes in the lobbies. Telephone wiretaps also captured conversations between Saxon and the johns.

“We are in the final stages of this investigation,” prosecutor Cullen told the judge. “We have one or two other matters that will be resolved in the coming weeks or months.”

Saxon's attorney Melissa Owen told the judge that Saxon did everything she could to protect her prostitutes from harm. Most were in their late 20s and 30s. Some were in their 50s. Most of the women, she said, had other jobs. Some had careers, some were professionals. One of the call-girls was a college professor with a Ph.D.

The clients were among Charlotte's elite and included doctors, lawyers, professional athletes and CEOs.

On Tuesday, Judge Whitney said the johns are not innocent clients. “If they are not prosecuted, they are very lucky.”

Whitney ordered Saxon taken into custody because she'd been charged with misdemeanor larceny while out on bond awaiting sentencing.

“She's going to begin paying her debt to society today,” the judge said.

Donald Saxon, 53, and Taylorsville photographer Glenn Fox, 58, also were sentenced Tuesday for their roles in the prostitution ring. They too had pleaded guilty.

Fox got 15 months in prison. He was accused of taking photographs of the prostitutes, and Sallie Saxon paid him $32,000 in 2006 for the service, according to court documents.

Donald Saxon was sentenced to 21 months in prison. He was accused of picking up cash payments from prostitutes after their sessions with clients.

Both men were allowed to remain free for a few months until they're ordered to report to prison.

“I can't express how sorry I am to the court, to my family and friends and most of all to God,” Donald Saxon told the judge.

“I've been hurt today more than I could ever be hurt. They took away my wife.

“I'll get through this. And so will my wife. We're sorry for anything we've done to harm families.”

As he left the courthouse, Donald Saxon told reporters “My heart broke … ” when his wife was handcuffed and led away. “She heard me tell her ‘I love you.'”

He's got plans for how he'll spend his time behind bars: “Where I'm going is going to be a very long Bible study.”

Asked about all the johns who won't be prosecuted, Saxon replied: “It's not fair.”