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Taped beatings of homeless men remind us it's not all sunny in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG

Every now and then, something happens to remind us — with a jolt — that there's a seedy side to the Sunshine City.

Such was the case last week. Times reporter Emily Nipps revealed that homeless men in St. Petersburg were allegedly targeted by recruiters from Shefights.net, a locally operated website that sells videos of scantily clad or seminude women beating up men, according to a lawsuit.

Preying on the least among us — with the carrot of a $25 to $50 payday — for the staging of a "beat down" for videos that garner upwards of $900 is shameful. Surely city leaders can draft an ordinance that protects vulnerable residents from such despicable behavior.

The sight of victims with black eyes and split lips in Williams Park is just part of a greater issue. Are the city and the Tampa Bay area becoming a magnet or, even worse, a hub for this sort of thing?

People who have lived here long enough probably shouldn't be surprised that entrepreneurs and filmmakers continue to make their way to the Tampa Bay area.

Some of this dates back to 1995. Remember the infamous sex dungeon saga in Thonotosassa in Hillsborough County? Characters like "Floor Slave Joan" and "Master Troy" and a black long-haired Labrador named Blackie apparently were integral parts of a sexual fantasy fulfillment service. Yes, even the dog had a role to play.

For decades, raunchy escapades were mostly confined to Tampa and Hillsborough County, which are nationally known for X-rated entertainment and lap dancing.

When a "Porn Camp" was held in an undisclosed location in Tampa Bay in March 2008, it was widely assumed that it was in Hillsborough, or perhaps Pasco County.

At the camp, two dozen prospective adult filmmakers learned how to make a porno film. The weekend-long, $4,000-per-person seminar covered everything from porn-star pay scales to set design to effective websites.

But "sleepy St. Pete" has had episodes, too.

In January 2006, a $1 million, hard-core sex movie was filmed aboard the replica of a pirate ship — the HMS Bounty — that was docked at the Pier, one of the city's most family-friendly landmarks. By the time city officials got wind of it, the flick, which took months to film, had already sold 100,000 copies, making it one of the biggest adult movies of all time.

Since November 2009, several so-called bikini bars, where scantily clad dancers entertain patrons without exposing their private areas, have opened in downtown St. Petersburg. Last June, one of them was temporarily shut down after police arrested several employees on charges of violating the city's nudity ordinance.

The recent allegations of the beatings of homeless men should be a wakeup call to city and business leaders alike.

Come up with a solution to prevent these fly-by-night operations from cropping up here or else "Cindy Doe" and "Jane Does 1-5" soon will be bringing the "beat down" to a friend or neighbor near you.

• • •

But wait, there's more.

Sinn has evolved into Lust.

Six weeks ago, brothers J.R. and Rick Neefe bought and renovated the former Club Sinn, at 340 First Ave. N, in downtown St. Petersburg and changed the name to Club Lust.

J.R, 30, and Rick, 28, have backgrounds in finance and aeronautical engineering. According to an e-mail from J.R. Neefe, Club Lust, which opened Thursday, is a ladies and gentlemen's club that "reinvents the wheel of traditional adult clubs in a clean and safe environment."

Sigh.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

Taped beatings of homeless men remind us it's not all sunny in St. Pete 04/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 16, 2011 2:36pm]

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