Thursday, August 16, 2018
News Roundup

Woman says Hernando County commissioner kept her as a ‘sex slave’

SPRING HILL — A woman who answered the door Friday at the home of Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said she served for months as a “sex slave” to the elected official.

Valerie Surette, who called herself a 30-year-old stripper with an on-and-off drug problem, was one of two women named in charging documents when Nicholson was arrested Thursday on prostitution-related charges.

Nicholson, 71, preyed on her “vulnerability” and that of other women like her, Surette said. She had sex with Nicholson in exchange for a place to live and cash for groceries, drugs and drug rehabilitation, she said.

“I had originally agreed to the arrangement,” Surette said. “I did work at a strip club, but that’s different. Here, I was a sex slave … Whatever he wanted, I had to do."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando County commissioner arrested on prostitution charges

The commissioner faces charges of operating a location for prostitution and two counts of purchasing services from a person engaged in prostitution, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.

On Thursday night, the Republican Executive Committee of Hernando County voted to ask Nicholson to resign from his post, which he has held since 2012.

Nicholson answered the door of his office Friday, at Nicholson Engineering Associates, 7468 Horse Lake Road, but did not take questions from a Tampa Bay Times reporter or return phone calls. As of Friday afternoon, he had not resigned.

An injunction for protection against sexual violence, filed by Surette’s attorney, Robert Morris, was granted this week, barring Nicholson from returning to his home. Surette said she and her husband, Kendel Surette, will live there until they find a new home.

Surette said she met Nicholson last year at Icon Gentleman’s Club in Pasco County, where she was a stripper. In April 2017, he suggested she move into his home at 4580 Tiburon Ave., she said.

"He begged me for months and offered me very large sums of money if I would move in and have sex with him," she said.

After they moved in, Nicholson paid the couple $100 on Tuesdays and $200 on Saturdays for sex with Surette, her husband told deputies when they were called to the house in February. Nicholson allowed Surette’s other clients to come to his house for sex, as well, her husband reported.

Surette said Nicholson made her engage in uncomfortable or painful sex acts that they hadn’t agreed to.

"If I didn’t kiss him or touch him or sit on his lap, he would get angry," she said.

Thursday’s arrest report indicated that a second woman, Melinda Baker, 38, also had sex with Nicholson for money. Baker, currently in the Hernando County Detention Center on a charge of driving on a suspended license, listed Nicholson’s address as hers.

Surette said Baker lived at the house, but moved out a few months ago. In exchange for sex with Baker on Mondays and Wednesdays, the commissioner paid her rent and rehab clinic bills, Surette said.

Prostitution charges against the women are not anticipated at this time, according to Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Kraft.

In 2012, Nicholson was investigated for his relationship with another stripper, but the state brought no charges.

Commissioner Jeff Holcomb said the Republican Executive Committee on Thursday was nearly unanimous in asking Nicholson to step down.

If Nicholson resigns soon, his District 1 County Commission seat could be on the ballot later this year, said Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson.

Neighbors on Nicholson’s street said Friday they were relieved to learn of the commissioner’s arrest, but want the Surettes to leave, too.

After moving in next door to Nicholson in January 2017, Joe and Sheli Dile watched day after day as cars — even limousines — stopped in front of the house to drop off women who went into the home. Men came, too, they said.

"There are kids in the neighborhood, and she’s out servicing Johns in the driveway," Sheli Dile said. Kendel Surrette told deputies in February that his wife had sex with clients in a car outside the home.

"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on," Sheli Dile said.

After months of hearing screaming and yelling from Nicholson’s house at night, neighbor Connie Rasbach, 55, said she hopes the commissioner is gone for good.

"He needs help — and I wish he would get it — but he needs to leave his job to do it," she said. "We need (commissioners) who are going to help our community, not make it worse."

Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs. Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected]y.com or 352-848-1434.

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