Jeffery Williams says he is a former financial adviser with a master's degree in German literature and a side interest in getting whipped.
His hobby led him to create the websites Shefights.net and Shepunishes.com, which featured videos of young women whipping and beating men.
It all made national news last year after advocates filed a lawsuit against Williams and his company, claiming he was targeting vulnerable homeless people for the beatings. Three months ago, a police investigation ended with the arrests of Williams and one of his fighters on two charges of aggravated battery of disabled adults.
As Williams, 59, sits in the Pinellas County jail awaiting his criminal trial, lawyers in his civil case have interviewed several key players, including Williams, two of his fighters and two of the men who were beaten.
Their stories, revealed in court records, shine a spotlight on how an esoteric interest in the Internet age can become a thriving business — and also, according to advocates, a vehicle for exploiting the desperate.
One female performer says she was paid as much as $800 to make videos in which she boxed and whipped men, sometimes drawing blood with lashes to their backs.
Some of the beatings occurred in a small business called the Ringside Studio on S Missouri Avenue in Clearwater, according to the sworn testimony.
Two men said they agreed to videotaped beatings when they were homeless because the money sounded good and no one was going to get hurt, other than them.
But once the beating began, one said, it turned "very horrific, very brutal and very terrifying."
For his part, Williams says the men who participated in the beatings and whippings did so voluntarily. Some like it, he said in his deposition. He denied making any effort to target homeless people and said most of the men were not homeless.
It's true that he did eventually learn a couple were homeless men who hung around Williams Park in St. Petersburg, he said, but at first, "we had no idea they were homeless … but on the other hand, it didn't make any difference. They are as entitled to the work as anybody else."
The female fighter who was arrested with Williams, Zuzu Irvina Vargo, 25, of St. Petersburg does not appear to have been interviewed yet. Police say she was arrested because two of the men she beat at a home owned by Williams were mentally disabled.
Luke Lirot, Williams' attorney, said he questions whether the men in the criminal case are truly disabled.
Williams told lawyers during his deposition that he has worked as a financial adviser for Wachovia Securities and Edward Jones, and that he "built a consulting business at Price Waterhouse and then later at IBM Consulting."
He said he has enjoyed getting beaten or whipped by women since he was 15. He came up with the idea for the website while dealing with the loss of someone close. He placed an ad seeking fighters, posted some videos and "much to my surprise, we quickly became successful."
He launched the business full time. Court records listed titles of some of his videos: Brutal Blondes: Julie and Tina Destroy Thumper, Bikini Beatdown and Athena Beats Up an Old Boyfriend.
Williams said he shot most of the videos himself. Some were filmed in the garage of his St. Petersburg townhouse, others in Orlando and Pompano Beach. Many were at Clearwater's Ringside Studio.
Michelle Sharp, a former bikini dancer and knife saleswoman, participated in several beatings. Using the stage name Mikaela, she said she put on boxing gloves and hit guys in the face, kicked them in the head and whipped them, sometimes drawing blood.
"Some men come in there thinking that … you know, we hit like little girls. So when you do hit them hard, they are like 'whoa!' " she said in her deposition. The men, she said, "they just wanted to be dominated … some of them like the beat down, some of them liked the whipping."
Another performer was Tina Caccavale, who said she used to play for the Miami Caliente of the Lingerie Football League.
The rules of a beatdown, she said, were that the female fighters could "kick, punch, knee, slap" or whip, but the guys were not allowed to hit back.
"Whenever anyone wants a break on either side they can," she said, adding "it's actually like a great workout."
One of the homeless men, George Grayson, said he agreed to the beatings because he needed the $25 to $50. The same was true for Ronn Boykins, who said he had worked as an extra for two movies when he lived in California.
Boykins said he was told the beatings wouldn't hurt much. But then he was driven to an Orlando warehouse and told to take off his shoes and shirt. He was made to grab a large metal ring hanging from the ceiling, he said, and the whipping began.
"I believe I urinated on myself," he said. "And then the third time I cried out. I told them to stop. I couldn't handle it."
The woman who was hitting him stopped, but was "telling me that I could finish this and how strong I am. And that she needed this to be done."
And then he was hit more with a bullwhip and belts. Eventually, he said, "I don't want this girl hitting me any more … this chick is crazy." And it stopped.
Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said prosecutors contend two other men who were mentally disabled and unable to consent were also beaten.
No date has been set for a criminal trial. The civil trial is set for February.