Goddess Temple founder sentenced for operating a house of prostitution

Tracy Elise, 55, the self-proclaimed “Mother High Priestess” of the Phoenix Goddess Temple, will serve a four-and-a-half-year term in the Arizona Department of Corrections for operating a house of prostitution. She will also have supervised probation for four years after her release, according to a Maricopa County Attorney’s Office news release.

After a six-month investigation, 18 individuals were arrested and indicted on multiple offenses including conspiracy, illegal control of an enterprise, and operating a house of prostitution. All of the defendants, except Ms. Elise, waived their right to a trial and agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for sentences of varying lengths of probation.

Ms. Elise, who represented herself, rejected multiple attempts to resolve the case. After a 48-day trial, it took the jury less than four hours to issue guilty verdicts on the remaining 22-counts in the indictment, including two-counts of illegal control of an enterprise, one-count of operating a house of prostitution, 13-counts of money laundering, and six-counts of pandering.

“Today’s sentence underscores the failure of the defendant’s persistent efforts to escape the consequences of her criminal actions by portraying them as an exercise of religious freedom,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

“Her time in prison will provide an opportunity to reflect on the harm she has caused by objectifying and degrading other women and subjecting them to what was no more than an exchange of money for the sexual gratification of others.”

Phoenix Police Department detectives learned in March, 2011, that the Phoenix Goddess Temple was operating a prostitution enterprise under the guise of being a religious institution. Employees, known as “Goddesses,” offered various sexual acts in exchange for monetary donations ranging from $204 to $650.

The temple advertised these services on backpage.com, a website often used to facilitate acts of prostitution. Customers, known as “seekers” by the temple, made appointments by phone with specific temple “practitioners,” or “healers,” who performed different sex acts in exchange for a donation to the temple.

During their investigations, police observed males and females entering the temple all day and night so Ms. Elise was ordered to cease operations and liquidate the business entity that operated the temple. Working undercover, investigators learned that temple healers were required to complete a series of classes and perform sex acts according to a Practitioner Handbook, which included information on how much each session would cost. Customers who reportedly did not leave the required donation were not allowed back in the temple.

After citizens complained to police that a brothel was in their neighborhoods, Ms. Elise was forced to stop operations in other locations by zoning departments. She operated a similar temple in Seattle that was raided and shut down by the Seattle Police Department.


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