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, Fla., 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.
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, Fla., 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."
One of the homeless men, George Grayson, said he agreed to the beatings because he needed the $25 to $50.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service www.scrippsnews.com)