- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

OKLAHOMA CITY — Brian Bates says he was so fed up with prostitutes and their customers cruising his working-class neighborhood in the mid-1990s that he picked up a video camera and started documenting their sex acts on tape.

Dubbed the “video vigilante,” Mr. Bates soon made a splash on local TV and drew praise from police and prosecutors with his lurid, caught-in-the-act footage, which he posted on his Web site to embarrass the customers of the prostitutes. The national press eventually took notice, and Mr. Bates appeared regularly on programs such as “The Maury Povich Show.”

But now Mr. Bates could be looking at prison himself.

Prosecutors say some of his footage was not a result of intrepid camera work. Instead, they say, he paid prostitutes to take their customers to locations where he could easily tape them.

He has been charged with pandering and aiding and abetting prostitution.

Mr. Bates and his attorney have denied the accusation and say Mr. Bates ran afoul of the police and district attorney’s office when he videotaped two white Oklahoma City police officers beating an unarmed black man with their batons during an arrest in 2002. At the time, District Attorney Wes Lane defended the officers and decided not to prosecute them, drawing criticism from Mr. Bates.

The charges against Mr. Bates are “the biggest abuse of power I’ve ever seen to try and silence a critic,” defense attorney Scott Adams said. “They’re simply trying to shut this man up.”

Mr. Lane, who is up for re-election in November, has disputed any suggestion that he is out to get Mr. Bates. When the initial charges were filed 11/2 years ago, the district attorney said he thought Mr. Bates had good intentions when he started the videotaping but crossed the line after getting a little taste of fame. The district attorney said Mr. Bates’ video work had become “just this side of pornography.”

Mr. Lane refused to speak to the Associated Press about the case. But former Assistant District Attorney Jay Trenary, who resigned from Mr. Lane’s office in April, said prosecuting Mr. Bates became a top priority for Mr. Lane.

“My personal opinion is that Brian Bates is being picked on,” Mr. Trenary said. “Certainly more resources were devoted to his case than there were to other crimes going on at the time, and even more serious cases.”

Last year, Oklahoma City police set up a sting operation aimed at Mr. Bates that included several surveillance vehicles and a police helicopter. It also involved a prostitute and an ex-convict who agreed to wear a wire during a meeting with Mr. Bates.

Although the audio recordings failed, the detective in the helicopter reported that he saw Mr. Bates go with the pair to a cash machine and provide them with $50.

Both the prostitute, Renee McCullough, and the ex-convict, Gerald Loud, testified against Mr. Bates before a grand jury. According to court documents, Loud struck a deal with prosecutors to testify in exchange for a suspended sentence for methamphetamine possession. Miss McCullough is facing a soliciting charge.

Mr. Bates says he routinely paid prostitutes for interviews that he later posted on his Web site, www.johntv.com. He says he agreed to give the prostitute $50 so she could get a hotel room to visit her children.

Mr. Bates and his attorney said Mr. Lane’s office offered to let him off without prison time if he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, but Mr. Bates said he refused to “roll over and take this.”

The case was thrown out on a technicality. But Mr. Lane took the case to a grand jury and in June brought more charges, punishable by up to 140 years in prison. Mr. Bates was charged with setting up at least four sex acts.

Mr. Bates’ wife, Vickie, was charged with aiding and abetting prostitution.

No trial date has been set.

Mr. Bates, a 36-year-old former marketing manager for a hospital and now a journalism student at the University of Central Oklahoma, said he is simply an anti-prostitution activist.

He said he earned $15,000 from his appearances on “Maury Povich” but makes nothing off the Web site and turned down a $250,000 offer from a production company that wanted to make a “Hookers Gone Wild” video.

Despite the pending charges, Mr. Bates continues to patrol the streets with his video camera, documenting prostitutes engaged in lewd acts with their customers.

“If I wanted to win a popularity contest, I’d save the whales or feed the children,” he said. “I took on something that was controversial, and I enjoy it because I can literally do it by myself and I can see results.”

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