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Frederick opening reading room for public to view black book

February 18, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

FREDERICK, Md. - The city is opening a "black book" reading room for people who want to see 8,500 pages, plus video and photographs, documenting its investigation of a prostitution ring, Mayor Jennifer Dougherty said Tuesday.

The material includes pornographic photos and video that can only be viewed by people 18 or older, said Heather Price Smith, the city's chief lawyer.

The documents will be available for viewing under supervision by a city attorney from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, starting Wednesday, Dougherty said.

Some of the records were seized by police in a 1999 raid. The material also includes evidence developed during the investigation, such as videotaped interviews with witnesses and crime-scene photos, Dougherty said.

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The state Court of Special Appeals ordered the city last month to release the material after a court fight prompted by requests by The Frederick News-Post, The Associated Press and a private citizen. They sought the records amid allegations that the customers of the prostitution business included public officials.

City Hall staffers moved a conference table and chairs, a videocassette player and a video monitor into a foyer outside Smith's office Tuesday afternoon in preparation for viewers.

Dougherty said the logistics for providing public access partly reflected the robust demand for the first 82 pages, released Feb. 10. She said 75 to 100 people have requested those pages, prompting the city to implement a $27 copying fee on Friday.

"I think it's important to note that we are required to make this information public. The city is not required to go broke in making this information public," Dougherty said.

It took the city legal staff about two weeks to black out personal information such as Social Security and credit card numbers in the pages to be released Wednesday. A City Hall photocopier broke down while the pages were being copied for the reading room, Smith said.

The indexed documents to be released today may be reviewed at no cost or purchased, in part or in whole, to cover photocopying costs, Dougherty said. A complete set would cost more than $2,000, she said. Copies of the video and photographic material will be available, she said.

At Wastler's Barber Shop in downtown Frederick, owner Jay Wastler joked that he would like some of the video for the shop's two television sets. Then he said he was more concerned about the effects of the "black book" on his once-quiet hometown than about whose name might be in it.

Pointing to Tuesday's News-Post front page, with a story about one of the former call girls who was addicted to drugs, Wastler asked, "Now how do you explain that to kids?"

Police seized the records from the home of Angelika Potter and her Frederick-based business, the Corporate Affair Referral Service. Potter pleaded guilty to operating a "place of assignation" - essentially a brothel - and was fined $100.

Critics of then-Mayor James S. Grimes alleged the plea bargain was made to avoid disclosure that public officials and other prominent citizens were named in the documents. Those allegations prompted the open-records requests.

In June 2001, then-Alderman Blaine Young, the only public official known to be named in the records, acknowledged having hired some of the women to dance at parties.

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