The plump, brown-haired woman who called herself "Floor Slave Joan" reclined on a black couch inside her employer's "dungeon" _ the dim living room of a wood-shingled home in northeastern Hillsborough County.
She was only a domestic slave, she patiently explained to the cameras. Slavery is not illegal if it's voluntary, she said.
Besides, she added, "all our (hand)cuffs are self-releasing."
That didn't matter to authorities, who said money, videotapes and a dog named Blackie apparently were integral parts of a sexual fantasy-fulfillment service operated out of the Thonotosassa home. Hillsborough sheriff's deputies raided the house at 10010 Harney Road about 2:30 p.m. Thursday as the media waited outside.
After searching the house and removing pornographic videotapes, whips, chains, a fur-lined pillory and a sexual torture device called "St. Andrew's Cross," deputies arrested Joan, her boss, "Master Troy," coworker "Mistress Shannon" and a third woman on charges of racketeering, prostitution, and animal cruelty.
"I've seen some weird stuff in 26 years on the force," said Capt. Dick Tagliabue. "But this is disgusting."
Nearby stood a black long-haired Labrador called Blackie. Detectives think he was the unwitting star of some of the hundreds of pornographic videos made in the bungalow-style home.
After they responded to an advertisement in an adult magazine that invited customers to "Come Visit My Dungeon," undercover detectives spent two months posing as clients and getting to know long-haired, bespectacled "Master Troy" _ whose real name is Terry Lynn Thomas _ and his employees. Officials said the detectives didn't participate in activities, but told Thomas they were into voyeurism.
Thomas rents out his wood-paneled "dungeon" only to clients he feels comfortable with, detectives said, and allows them free rein in the yellow-carpeted, musty room with racks for sexual torture and clay sculptures of fornicating figures.
One wall featured a mirrored altar, lit with skull-shaped candles. Beneath it hung whips, chains, clips, cuffs and a plunger.
"I put a nice, safe environment where certain people come and do their wildest fantasies," Thomas, 48, said, smiling and talking easily as sheriff's deputies led him out of the house and into a waiting van.
Thomas and Joan _ 43-year-old Joan L. Hutkin _ were charged with racketeering, operating a place for prostitution, distribution of obscene materials and animal cruelty. Both Hutkin, "Mistress Shannon" _ whose real name is Jena Zellar _ and a third woman, Sheila A. Mathis, 42, were charged with offering to commit prostitution. Thomas, Hutkin and Zellar were being held at the Hillsborough County Jail Thursday night in lieu of various amounts of bail. Mathis was released on $1,000 bail.
The racketeering charges stem from the fact that Thomas also films the fantasies, often without the knowledge of the participants, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
The videotapes circulate among members of Thomas' video club, called Knott Fancy Videos. For a one-time membership fee of $50, plus another $10 for each rental, clients can choose from a library of hundreds of the home videos, as well as numerous commercial videos from around the world.
It was one of the commercial tapes, featuring well-known porn actress Traci Lords, that made detectives wonder if Thomas had involved local children in his operation. In the video, Lords is 16.
Until they search Thomas' computer files and the rest of his video library, detectives won't know how many club members there are, or whether any local children or animals are featured in the videos, some with names like Ladies of the Lash and Animal 200.
Hutkin and Zellar, 32, both said they have never engaged in sexual acts with customers at the house. Zellar said she had been Thomas' girlfriend for about a year, but does not live with him at the house.
Hutkin does live there, but said she has only a professional relationship with Thomas.
"I'm just a domestic floor slave," she said, arms folded across a tattooed, lace-clad chest. "Sometimes, when (Terry) has parties, I serve pretzels and stuff."
"I'm under psychiatric care," she continued. "My doctor says this (job) works for me."
Both Hutkin and blond, sunburned Zellar said they couldn't understand the fuss Thursday afternoon.
"The bondage and discipline . . . it's just a kind of alternative stress therapy," Zellar said. "And we always use condoms on the (sex toys)."
Opening a wooden chest full of wigs and dresses, Zellar said male customers often enjoyed dressing up as the employees' "girlfriends."
"How harmless is it to put makeup on a guy and sit with him and talk? It doesn't hurt anybody," she said.
Hillsborough Animal Services officers drove Blackie away from the house Thursday afternoon down a sandy, vine-hung path to Harney Road, and back to the county shelter.
"We don't know yet if we're going to have to put the dog to sleep," Tagliabue said. "Even if somebody adopts him, we don't know what he might do among people now."