HOUSTON (FOX 26) – He’s not giving it back.
Mayor Sylvester Turner’s re-election campaign says he’s keeping at least $50,000 in political contributions extended by the operators of Houston’s best known strip clubs – sexually oriented businesses historically linked by investigators to human trafficking.
It was challenger Bill King who called out the Mayor, questioning both his judgment and his ethics.
“Turner’s decision to accept these contributions represents a new moral low in our city. We cannot find any evidence that any mayor or mayoral candidate has ever accepted money from this industry,” said King.
Campaign finance records cross checked by Fox 26 indicate donors linked to more than a dozen topless bars funneled cash into Turner’s coffers, with the notorious Davari family, owners of Treasures and five other clubs, topping the list.
Most of the contributors have clubs protected under the so-called “Sweet 16” agreement – a 2013 legal settlement which created a cartel of establishments exempted from City laws prohibiting lap dances and physical contact with customers.
In return, the strip-cartel kicks the city $1 million each year, purportedly to combat human trafficking.
But advocates for victims of the sex trade call it “blood money”.
“Pay to play is wrong. Do the right thing. Give back the dirty money and end the Sweet 16,” said John Clark, founder of Operation Texas Shield.
“Dirty money stains the hands of those that accept it. Dirty money that comes out of the same hands that profit from human trafficking,” said Rev. Hernan Constano of the Texas Pastor Council.
In response, Turner campaign spokesperson Sue Davis said,
“The city is building on the progress of a settlement crafted by Mayor Annise Parker in 2013. These clubs have joined the fight against human trafficking, funding the Houston Police Department’s human trafficking unit. The businesses also train employees on human trafficking awareness, report all complaints of prostitution, indecent exposure and drug use to police and eliminated private VIP rooms and areas within the clubs.”
Candidate King offered a rebuttal.
“The City of Houston has not sunk so low that we have to accept a million dollars to fight this problem,” said King.
The Turner Campaign says when the “Sweet 16” deal comes up for renewal, the Mayor plans to evaluate its success and act in the best interest of the City.