'New moral low': Bill King slams Mayor Turner for accepting campaign funds from strip club owners

HOUSTON – Candidate Bill King slammed Mayor Sylvester Turner for accepting campaign funds from Houston strip clubs, clubs King says engage in human trafficking.

King took aim at Turner during a news conference on Thursday.

King released a list of 24 donations made to Turner's campaign between 2015 and 2018 by 14 individuals who own or are connected to some of Houston's biggest strip clubs.

King questioned donors to Turner's campaign in what he calls "pay-to-play politics."

He is accusing Turner of accepting campaign fund from strip clubs, a claim Turner's campaign is not denying. King said the owners of "Treasures" are among the people who have donated to Turner's campaign. King pointed out that the city of Houston sued Treasures in 2012, accusing the club of knowingly engaging in and allowing human trafficking.

"Turner's decision to accept these contributions really represents a new moral low in our city. We can't find any evidence that any mayor or mayoral candidate ever accepted money from this industry before," King said.

King said a review of campaign finance records show Turner has accepted nearly $50,000 from owners of strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses since June 2015. King also said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo received a contribution from one of the donors during her 2018 campaign but returned the money.

“Mayor Turner, the $50,000 you have received, has stained your hands and has opened a wide door to the human trafficking corruption and immorality of our city,” said pastor Hernan Castano, of the Houston Area Pastor Council. “We ask you if you have any dignity and respect for our city, to return that filthy money with the smell of corruption that has polluted Houston. Cancel the ‘Sweet 16’ contract.”

King said the clubs are breeding grounds for human trafficking.

Turner's office said it would not return the campaign funds.

The "Sweet 16" agreement between the city and the city's 16 largest strip clubs and sexually oriented businesses is set to expire next year.

When the Sweet 16 agreement comes up for renewal, "Turner will review and evaluate the extent of its success measured by what is in the best interest of the city," Sue Davis, the mayor's communications director, said.

"In 2013, the city entered into a settlement with the strip clubs in which the clubs pay approximately $1 million a year to the city. In return, the city stopped enforcing rules that prohibited lap dances, allowed dancers to be fully topless, and exempted the businesses from registering as sexually oriented businesses," according to a release from King's camp.

King pledged to refuse all campaign contributions from owners of sexually oriented businesses.

"The Sweet 16 deal is not sweet at all,” anti-trafficking advocate John Clark said. “In this case, the strip clubs are allowed to operate under a less stringent set of rules because the money they pay is used for human trafficking prevention. That's like allowing some drug dealers to operate under less restrictive laws because they use some of their profits to help pay for drug prevention services. It's crazy.”

Davis released the following statement:

"It’s sad to watch Bill King politicize this serious issue while Mayor Turner is advancing real solutions.

"Mayor Turner employs a Special Advisor on Human Trafficking in his office. Minal Patel Davis last year was awarded the prestigious Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons, the highest U.S. award for this issue.

"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 with a million dollars a year. 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.

"The City of Houston’s standards, policies and practices have become the model for the fight against human trafficking."

In an interview with KPRC2, Turner said he wouldn't respond directly to King and that the city is winning the war on human trafficking.

"Where we were once known to be the hub for human trafficking, now people are looking to us from all over the country, and even outside the country, on the steps we have taken to combat human trafficking. Those are results. Those are positive results, and I think the results speak for themselves."

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