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WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, 2007
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Lacey's Spring's activities illegal?
Surprises abound at meeting about alleged prostitution

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

LACEY'S SPRING — About 80 residents who came to Bethlehem Baptist Church on Tuesday night to discuss how to quell alleged prostitution in their community got more than they anticipated.

A woman stood up and identified herself as an ex-prostitute who once worked at both spas.

Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett assured the audience that his deputies would do all they could to build cases against anyone engaging in criminal acts. That pledge was predictable.

Eviction notice

The first unexpected news came from their neighbors, Joseph H. Williams Jr. and his wife, Diane. They own the building on U.S. 231 where one of two controversial spas operates. They said they won an eviction judgment Tuesday morning in Morgan County District Court because the spa had stopped paying rent.

"They're history!" said Diane Williams to loud applause. "I want you to know come Aug. 2, Top Notch is out of there."

Illusion, the other spa that was a main topic of the meeting, burned June 30, but owner Ann Mcelhaney of Huntsville said Monday she hoped to reopen at the same site within the next week.

Illusion was one mile north of Top Notch on U.S. 231.

At the start of the hourlong meeting, a church member, Cole Mahan, showed slides from Top Notch's Web site to give a hint what went on at the spa. It led to a mesmerizing moment near the end of the meeting when Laura Powers of Eva stepped forward.

"I am a recovering drug addict," she said. "I was known as Anna, that prostitute you saw up there on the screen. I will stand for this community if the Lord will stand with me."

Powers said she worked at both Top Notch and Illusion. She said she did drugs, including snorting cocaine, at both locations.

"I've been in jail seven times in five different counties the past six months," she said. "I am 32 years old. Today is my birthday. What better gift can I give myself?" She apparently was referring to her public confession.

"I stand here with nothing to lose," she said. "I've lost it all. But I do have something to give."

As she prepared to leave, she bent down and hugged Diane Williams. She then walked down the aisle to a chorus of "Amen" and the audience sang, "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday in Lord Jesus, happy birthday to you."

After the meeting, Powers, who has three children, said she once made $500 in 10 minutes at Top Notch and regularly made between $150 and $350 an hour for "the girlfriend experience" at Illusion.

She said Illusion also runs an escort service from two Huntsville motels.

"My three children lost their mother, and I lost a wonderful husband," she said. "Now, I celebrate my birthday alone. But I feel I've been reborn today. I want to keep this from happening to any other children, to any other family."

Mcelhaney could not be reached for comment, nor could Angela Chambers, whom the Williamses said rented their unit for Top Notch.

"Angela came to us in September 2004 and said she wanted to open a ladies' day spa," Diane Williams said. "We needed a renter and thought it would be all right. Then it took a bad turn. They didn't work during the day and stopped paying rent. They haven't paid rent since April."

Joseph Williams said the rent was $460 a month and Chambers paid only $200 in April.

"We had no clue as to what was going on in there," he said. "As far as I knew, there was nothing illegal. We evicted her for not paying rent."

He also said he is selling the three-unit building to Dale and Kathy Webster of Huntsville, who attended the meeting. The Websters said they plan to move their lawn, garden and landscape business into the building.

"It will occupy the major portion," Dale Webster said. "All we lack is closing."

Sheriff Bartlett said his budget is $4 million and he hopes to get an increase of $362,000 during budget hearings this week with the Morgan County Commission. He wants to add six people, including five deputies and a sex-offender clerk.

"It's going to take more personnel to do what we need to do," he said. "We will put more patrol in Lacey's Spring."

Bartlett said a drawback to prosecuting anyone for prostitution is that it is only a misdemeanor.

"They get 15 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, and they're back on the streets," he said. "That isn't a deterrent. We need to work for legislation to get more teeth into the conviction. You can help by pressing the legislators."

District 4 Commissioner Stacy George said he would support the sheriff and deputies in obtaining whatever money they need, within reason, to better enforce the laws.

"I'm 110 percent against any establishment in District 4 that promotes prostitution in any form or fashion," George said.

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