Sidebar:Taking the RapLongtime Portland hip-hop artist Keary Kase Watson is now putting the final touches on his new album, named Life of a Star.
The title is fitting because Watson and his striking good looks were featured in a 7-foot-square ad that until recently graced the outside of Niketowns in Portland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Manhattan.
It's also fitting because last year he won a silver medal in the middleweight division of the national tae kwon do championships in Colorado, and next year he plans to go for the gold.
What may not fit with Watson's aspirations, however, is another of his accomplishments: Over the course of a year he built the largest escort service in the City of Roses.
Though Watson, 30, has never been arrested or charged with any crime involving the skin trade, Portland police suspect Watson was a rip-off artist and possibly a pimp--and they remain interested in him despite his claim that he has left the business.
Last month, the Multnomah County District Attorney won a conviction against Watson's associate, Latif "Von Great" Bossman, for robbing four National Guardsmen who answered an escort ad placed by Watson.
Intelligent and well-spoken, Watson contends that his friend and rap partner was innocent, railroaded by the Multnomah County justice system (see "Taking the Rap," page 26). And now Watson says he may be next.
"I am a target," he says. "I know that they don't really have any case against me, but I don't know if someone on the inside is trying to trump up or create some kind of case against me, just to trip me up."
"We suspect that Keary is controlling the lives of these women," says Detective Wayne Svilar, "and I don't think they think that there's a way out.... If they want to come to us and ask for assistance with prosecutions in the future or just to help them get out, then we're willing to help."
Regardless of whom you believe, the story of Keary Watson sheds light on the seamy side of a thriving niche of Portland's sex industry.
The most public facets of the city's legitimate sex industry are its 20 or so pornographic video and novelty shops. Their flagship is Fantasy Video, a chain of six warehouse-sized stores that are as clean and well-lighted as Blockbuster, but instead offer porn, sex toys and private viewing booths.
The area also offers about 50 strip clubs, which range from upscale joints like Stars in Beaverton to cramped, smoky dives like the Sandy Jug in Northeast Portland.
For those who prefer to watch live bodies in a more private setting, there are venues that offer showings by models clad in lingerie or nothing at all, commonly known as "jack shacks." Since Portland's first, X-otic Tan, opened on Northeast 82nd Avenue, approximately 23 of these establishments have sprung up across the city.
Most of these businesses engage solely in legal activity. But for some customers, only the oldest profession will do.
Last year, Portland police officers made 615 prostitution arrests, mostly of suspected johns and hookers. Investigations by the four-officer vice detail result in the conviction about a half-dozen pimps each year.
Officer Brian Duddy, the Police Bureau's top expert on street prostitution, says that much of the prostitution business has gone underground and into what is called the escort industry -- which, if operated correctly, is perfectly legal.
Escorts rely on ads in newspapers and sex magazines like Exotic and SFX, as well as websites such as portland-exotics.com to promote a business that is largely cash-based and conducted via cell phones.
More than 200 separate escort companies ply their trade in Portland, including the women who take their own calls and negotiate their own fees, as well as the agencies who take calls and dispatch escorts to hotel rooms and homes across the city.
Upon meeting the client, the escort is legally allowed to walk, talk, strip, dance, do a hot-oil massage, even masturbate while the client watches. They just can't trade sex for money.
Credible escort sources say that not all escorts are hookers, and being an escort-service operator does not automatically make you a pimp.
But those escorts who do hook make "damn good money," observes Duddy, who says that Portland's vice squad has so few officers that "escorts pretty much work with impunity."
On June 1, 2000, Watson and Rudolph Cesar Desaxe, 27, took out a business license for Titanium Entertainment LLC.
Police consider Desaxe a rough character. In 1994, Desaxe, whose nickname is "Pooh Bear," was convicted of unlawful use of a firearm and served nine months in the state prison system. In 1999, the Portland Police Bureau labeled him a member of the 18th Street Gang and a subgroup, the 42nd Tiny Locos.
On July 5, 2000, just one month after the two men took out their business license, officers searched Desaxe's home in Northeast Portland and found 3 1/2 ounces of cocaine, a half-ounce of crack, roughly $9,000 in cash, two 9-mm Glock pistols and ammunition for four other weapons, including a shotgun and a semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 carbine. Federal prosecutors indicted him on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and the case is pending.
Watson, who attended Lincoln High and the Metropolitan Learning Center, an alternative school, also has a troubled past. In 1991, at the age of 19, he was convicted of robbery in one case and of criminal mischief in another, in which he did more than $500 worth of damage to a woman's Mercedes. He also was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting and theft. Even into his early 20s, police labeled him a "gang affiliate" who ran with the Woodland Park Bloods, court records show.
"Growing up in Portland, you grew up with kids (who) became gang members," he now says. "They were just kids to me that I grew up with, friends and family. Being around those people would affiliate you with a gang."
Watson's run-ins with police, however, largely ended in 1991, and he became a fixture on the Portland hip-hop scene, performing with groups like Quadralyrical and Black Mob Family.
In his early 20s he was a regular at the Portland Saturday Market, where he sold his leather goods and jewelry he had made. Later, he started designing clothes and held various retail jobs. He has taken classes in business and last year completed a one-year music certificate at Portland Community College.
In his mid-20s he took up the Korean fighting art of tae kwon do, whose participants must ascribe to 11 commandments of moral behavior such as "indomitable spirit" and "love your brothers and sisters."
The year 2000 was a momentous one for Watson. In May, he won his tae kwon do silver medal, which he hopes is a good omen for making the national team next year.
That summer, he was noticed by a model scout and landed a gig for Nike that was shot by Marcus Swanson, a prominent Portland commercial photographer. (One of those Nike photos appears on this week's cover.)
"He was a very interesting character, and he made a great image," says Swanson's producer, Amber Geiger. "He's a nice guy."
His third and most profitable achievement occurred when, along with Desaxe, he formed Titanium and began running girls.
Watson was a strong believer in marketing. His firm poured thousands of dollars into ads that appeared in regularly in SFX and Exotica, Portland's two major sex-industry magazines. He also advertised in Willamette Week for four weeks this spring.
Watson says Titanium became the biggest agency in Portland, and other industry sources agreed. "He was our largest advertiser," says Christopher Lloyd-Baron, publisher of SFX, who says that Watson ran upwards of $3,700 worth of ads in a single month.
Watson photographed and designed his own ads. According to Lloyd-Baron, he liked to submit open "crotch shots" that violated magazine policy, forcing Baron to engage in last-minute censorship.
One ad features a photo of two very young-looking naked women; one appears poised to penetrate the other with a large strap-on dildo. Another Watson ad shows what appears to be a statuette ready to penetrate a naked woman's vagina, with the caption, "I'll wet your dirty little statue."
Despite the appearance of such ads, Watson says, he told his "girls" not to engage in sex, but rather to be sexy--which typically meant a strip-tease session. In fact, he shuns the term escort, since it is so often equated with hooking.
"It wasn't run like an escort business," says Watson. "I called it a companion agency. What I did was find girls who weren't prostitutes and behaved professionally, and I stuck with them."
At the height of his business, Watson says he was running 40 different ads listing eight different phone numbers.
All lines were routed to a single cell phone, staffed by a woman who would either respond to the calls or arrange to farm them out to one of Watson's other girls.
Watson claims he had only two women who worked for him regularly, though a few others came and went. However, one of his escorts told police that he was working six women.
If that is true, with six escorts averaging $500 a night apiece, five nights a week, and with Watson's agency taking 50 percent as its cut, the agency's monthly gross would be approximately $30,000. Assuming that was split among Watson, Desaxe and two escort bodyguards (including Bossman), the four would average $90,000 gross income in a 12-month period.
Watson, for his part, won't disclose his earnings except to say that it was enough to "elevate my lifestyle," allowing him to buy a new Ford Explorer and rent a nice house.
His success came with a price: attention from the Portland Police Bureau. Watson contends he was a target because of the city's antipathy toward the burgeoning escort industry. "No one wants Portland to turn into Las Vegas--I wouldn't even want that."
In any event, Watson's business had a tough time staying below the radar. A police report was filed on him six months after he started his agency. Describing him in the report as a suspected "pimp," the police responded to a clerk's call at the Best Inn and Suites on Northeast 82nd Avenue, where Watson and a "suspected prostitute" were staying. Cops found the room vacant but for sex toys, lingerie, used condoms and a detailed log of financial transactions.
On July 1 of this year police responded to a report of "suspicious activity" involving Watson and two women who attended a motel-room party held by several men at the Residence Inn on Southwest River Parkway. The men's limo driver told WW that the two women were escorts who walked out with $700 after performing for only about 15 minutes.
Lloyd-Baron, the SFX publisher, says he's gotten only four complaints about advertisers this year--and three concerned Watson. He says he warned Watson he was one call away from getting booted.
Lloyd-Baron says callers told him Watson's escorts would "trick" the customers into asking for sex within a few minutes of showing up, then walk out immediately with the customers' money. "What they're doing is legal," the publisher says, "but it's kind of immoral.
"This guy represents the seedier side of the escort business," maintains Lloyd-Baron. "He's not representative of the normal people who are out there, if anyone's normal in this business."
Watson agrees that he was not running a typical escort business, so he is not surprised that some men got upset when they learned that sex was not part of the deal. He suggests his refusal to go with the flow caused competitors to spread rumors about him.
Watson's business did not go unnoticed by police. Says vice cop Greg Duvik, "If he's doing all the things that everybody says, eventually it's going to catch up to him."
The incident that has been the biggest problem for Watson occurred June 27 and involved Bossman, who was working as a bodyguard for Watson's escorts.
On June 27, four National Guardsmen from Hawaii, on their last night of a two-week Portland training stint, responded to a Watson ad in SFX that read "Private Lessons: Jennifer."
The woman who answered the phone, Marianne Donaldson, 27, said she was "Jennifer" and agreed to meet them at the R/R Motel, at Northeast 117th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, where she would provide "full service" in exchange for $180, police reports said.
Donaldson, who refused to comment for this article, later told police she had no intention of having sex with anybody. She'd entered the business 12 days before and planned on leaving as soon as she'd saved $5,000.
It's not clear what exactly happened in the motel that night. The Guardsmen later told the police that when Donaldson arrived, they gave her $180 but she asked for more. At that point, they said Bossman, who had a conviction on his record for felony drug possession, entered the room, showed them a pistol and demanded more money. They gave him another $20, and Bossman and the girl left. The Guardsmen gave chase in a rented SUV and called the cops.
Later, when pulled over by police, Bossman claimed he never went in the room--only to be contradicted by both Donaldson and Daniel L. Feldman, the other bodyguard, who had waited outside in the car.
When the case went to court in August, Deputy District Attorney Derek Ashton persuaded Judge John Wittmayer to bar Watson from court, citing evidence that "Watson was putting pressure on witnesses" as well as the existence of "threats to Ms. Donaldson."
(Watson, for his part, denies any witness pressure or intimidation.)
Ashton also told the judge he suspected a connection between the case and what happened to Donaldson's best friend. She told police she was raped shortly before trial by a man police believe has ties to the escort industry, who told her, "Tell your friends to keep their mouths shut."
In the end, says Svilar, Donaldson's friend refused to press charges, citing fear for her life.
During trial, Donaldson took the stand and testified that prior to trial that day she had run into Bossman in custody; he called her a "rat" and said he would "slit her throat" if she went ahead and crossed him, she said.
Perhaps the most damning evidence presented against Bossman was a jailhouse tape of two phone conversations he had with Watson in July. On the tape, Bossman says he's worried that Donaldson might "crack" and testify against him; he adds that since spouses can't testify against each other, he was thinking of marrying her.
On Sept. 5, a jury convicted Bossman of five counts of second-degree robbery. Despite Ashton and Svilar's suspicion that Watson tried to influence testimony, he was not arrested or indicted.
"We felt like we were just scratching the surface," says Svilar of the robbery case. "I don't think this is an isolated incident."
Since the trial, police say, Donaldson has reported having a gun fired outside her house.
Watson says he has left the companion business. He no longer runs ads and says he has no women working for him. But it's not clear his brushes with the legal system are over, thanks to two police reports filed in January.
The first stemmed from an incident in which one of his escorts had stopped working for him, but kept his cell phone. Watson asked an acquaintance, Vivian Ann Wright, to get the phone back from her--through legal means only, he says.
A Feb. 8 indictment issued by Ashton accuses Wright and John D. Starr, both convicted felons, of threatening the escort with knives to get Watson's cell phone back. The police report filed on the incident remains confidential pending the trial, but the incident summary reads: "Pimp sends suspects to steal cell phone."
Following that report, the district attorney's office assigned an internal case number to Watson as a suspect in compelling prostitution, or "pimping." Since then the escort who provided information on Watson has stopped cooperating.
"People either feel such an allegiance to him or are so scared of him that they won't testify against him," says Svilar.
Watson says the escort told him that police kept "twisting her words" to use against Watson.
Svilar declined to speculate on whether Watson is or was a pimp.
"The information I have is that the girls are directed that you can do whatever you want, as long as you're getting more money. The idea is take the customer as far as you can, get as much money as you can and then get out."
Watson, for his part, steadfastly denies involvement in any illegality. His record has been largely clean for about a decade, he notes, saying, "I've been playing it straight."
He says he is just putting the final touches on his and Bossman's CD, as well as trying to stay focused on tae kwon do.
His year in the business was a nice ride, he says. "I hope it doesn't end with me in prison."
Keary Watson contends that Latif Bossman was "railroaded" and is innocent. "Chances are," says Watson, "he's going to get at least five years for something he didn't do."
Watson says there were several problems with the story that was used to convict Bossman.
First, though no gun was ever found, the National Guardsmen claimed that Bossman carried one. If that is true, says Watson, then how come they promptly hopped in their SUV and chased him through the streets of Portland?
"There was no gun--he never carried a gun," says Watson.
Watson notes that Marianne Donaldson, the escort, and Daniel Feldman, Bossman's associate, first told police that Bossman never entered the hotel room, and only changed their stories under what Watson characterizes as police pressure.
"Dan told me that police said he wasn't going to see his kids because he was going to jail for a long time," says Watson.
He also notes that Donaldson got a reduced sentence for testifying against Bossman. In July she wrote Bossman a letter while both were in jail, telling him that the police report was a "lie" and that they were both innocent.
Det. Wayne Svilar disputes the notion that the Bossman case is justice gone awry. He says Donaldson probably would have gotten about the same sentence whether or not she cooperated. "She had no incentive to lie," he said, adding she told police she wrote the July letter while in fear for her life.
Svilar says that perhaps the strongest evidence that Bossman really did commit robbery was that even after getting their money back, the four National Guardsmen pressed charges--thus exposing themselves to embarrassment and potential problems with their employers. Bossman's sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 12.
The growth of Portland's sex industry is reflected by the growth of its magazines,
was founded as an eight-page ad sheet in 1993 and now is an 88-page glossy.
started in 1998 and has grown from 44 to 60 pages.
Last year, the Portland vice unit scored a major win when Wai Chi Shirley Shubert, owner of an escort business called Portland Elite, was convicted on 10 counts of promoting prostitution and was sentenced to 45 months in jail.
Shubert ran as many as 50 escorts under 30 business names. Vice cop Greg Duvik says she had 17 different business lines, all routed to three phones at her leased home in the Dunthorpe area of Southwest Portland.
To discourage prostitution in the escort business, the Portland City Council in 1999 passed an ordinance, later struck down as unconstitutional, requiring ID cards for escorts as well as special licenses for such businesses.
Marianne Donaldson told police that Latif Bossman had "roughed up" customers in the past. According to the report, "She said that usually when he wants more money, he'll just come in and harass the customers until they give in and customers give an additional amount of money, or they'll just leave."
Last fall, prominent Portlander Wayne E. Olson, a Bank of America vice president, was killed and his West Hills home ransacked in what police believe to be related to a prostitution/ escort deal gone bad involving two longtime gang members.
In May 2001, 20-year-old Crystal Magana, a suspected prostitute, was arrested in the beating death of 74-year-old Ranchod Harvyasi in his Southwest Portland condominium. She told police she left in his BMW after looking through his home for valuables.