Tricks of the Trade

Loose laws have turned Denver into an easy place for hookers to do business, but the fun's about to end.

"That's like my song, you know, 'cause I'm what they call an 'international pimp.' I take my bitches and my business all over the damn place. Hollywood, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Oak City [Oklahoma] -- wherever the fuckin' money is, I'm there. But I'll tell you a little somethin' about this city here. As a professor of pimpology, allow me to drop some knowledge, straight from the prophet's mouth. Right now, in all of these United States, there is no finer city for pimpin' than Denver, Colorado. And there is no richer track [an urban street where prostitution thrives] than right here, baby, Cold Facts Avenue."

This glittering nugget of wisdom is a lot more than merely one pimp's opinion.

Police say Denver has become the summer destination of choice for traveling pimps and their stables of relatively high-priced hookers, or "circuit girls," who represent a new, different breed from the badly used local crack whores who operate independently of pimps and who used to typify prostitution on Colfax. Circuit girls are younger, flashier-dressed, better organized and less likely to be drug addicts. They're drawn here by two spreading reputations: that of Colfax as a sex-for-sale marketplace in which demand far outstrips supply, and that of Denver as a city with one of the most laissez-faire prostitution laws in the country.

Lieutenant Mark Leone likens hookers to modern-day slaves.
John Johnston
Lieutenant Mark Leone likens hookers to modern-day slaves.
Baby got back: A prostitute shops her wares on Cold Facts Avenue one block from Motel 9.
Ian Winn
Baby got back: A prostitute shops her wares on Cold Facts Avenue one block from Motel 9.

While other cities and states in recent years have hardened their laws against the world's oldest profession, in Denver prostitution has remained a petty offense, akin to jaywalking, punishable at most by a fine of less than $1,000 and a short stay in jail. This is true no matter how many convictions a prostitute racks up. And due to severe crowding in the Denver City Jail that leaves little room for nonviolent ladies of the evening, women arrested for prostitution in Denver rarely spend more than a few hours in a cell -- the time it takes their pimp to pay their bail.

"The word is definitely out on Denver," says Denver Police Department lieutenant Mark Leone, who works with ESCORT (Eliminate Street Crime on Residential Thoroughfares), a special patrol unit formed last August in response to the continuing increase of prostitution on Colfax. "There is a networking that goes on in the pimp profession just like in any other profession, and these pimps all talk to each other. They see where the money's good, where the cops aren't kicking butt and taking names, and where the laws are the most lax.

"These people are criminals," he adds. "They prefer the path of least resistance. And the path of least resistance is leading them to Denver."

Especially in the summer. "Jack Frost is the best cop in town when it comes to street prostitution," Leone says (except for January, during the National Western Stock Show, when "we see a big spike in out-of-towners," the cop adds. "All the cowboys are here with more money than sense, and Mom's back on the ranch.) But every year as the weather warms, young women dressed like fishing lures begin to pop up on Colfax around the same time that buds appear on the trees lining the residential streets nearby. By the time the trees are in bloom, the hookers have arrived in full force, forming nightly bouquets of leather and lace on choice corners.

It's been this way for years, but last summer, they came in never-before-seen numbers. Not coincidentally, last summer was when the State of Texas created a new law making a third conviction for prostitution an automatic felony commanding mandatory prison time. Texas pimps and prostitutes flocked to the nearest major city they deemed most hospitable: Denver.

"Most places, you know, one of your bitches busted every now and then is just a natural part of the game," says Kid Rock. "I just go down, pay the bitch's bail, go take her to get a new dress or get her nails done the next day -- you know, give her a little somethin' to make her feel better -- then put her ass right back on the track that night. That's just a cost of my doing business. I'm protecting my investments."

And his investments aren't paying off if they're sitting behind bars. "I know a good track or two in Dallas, Houston, but I'd rather make my money on Cold Facts. I don't even need to be fucking around with Texas anymore. They're changing the rules on a nigga down there."

Now the City of Denver is changing the rules as well.

Hundreds of residents of the South City Park Neighborhood, who found themselves under a perverse siege last summer, with hookers giving blow jobs on their front porches in the middle of the night, have exerted fierce pressure upon city and state officials to do something to combat prostitution on Colfax.

Though their attempts to spur state legislators to introduce a "three strikes" law similar to the one passed in Texas last year haven't been successful, their grievances have inspired action on the local level. City of Denver officials are moving quickly toward enacting a new, constitutionally questionable "area restriction" ordinance, which would ban anyone convicted of prostitution in Denver from setting foot on East Colfax. The new law has cleared a legal review by the Denver City Attorney's Office and is likely to take effect this summer.

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