He came from Memphis, but Johnny Ray Taylor appeared to have the Las Vegas street game wired.
At a time other local businessmen struggled, his personal balance sheet rose steadily. He lived the high life with revenues that appeared to defy the gravity of the recession.
Profits from running a string of eight prostitutes on the Strip had the 34-year-old pimp rolling in fat stacks of cash, and each year his net income increased. In addition to being experienced hustlers, his girls were also known as prolific trick-roll artists capable of separating suckers from their wallets, jewelry and other valuables before disappearing into the night.
Taylor was clever. He used third-party sources to make expensive purchases and kept his running bankroll, approximately $300,000, in what he thought was a secure location. He tried to remain off law enforcement’s radar, but he couldn’t resist driving a Bentley and collecting a Porsche and several other luxury cars for personal use.
Unlike some panderers, he kept his girls in comfortable style and sent them on shopping sprees for Gucci purses and other top-end fashion items.
But once the local office of the IRS Criminal Investigation unit teamed up with Metro’s Vice Unit to go after high-profile pimps, Taylor’s street game went from nearly anonymous to something of a test case. The two-pronged investigative approach started with the experienced Metro detectives tracking Taylor’s operation. Then the federal agents conducted a comprehensive lifestyle check. The resulting efforts took down a pimp even when his working girls weren’t willing to step up and testify against him.
In the Taylor case, insider witnesses weren’t used. Unlike traditional pandering investigations, they weren’t needed. (Persuading prostitutes to testify against even the most abusive pimps has proven a daunting challenge for vice detectives over the years.)
“The case was unique because not one of those girls raised their hand and said they were victims of force, fraud or coercion,” Metro Vice Unit Lt. Karen Hughes said. “We used circumstantial evidence to make the case that Johnny Taylor was pandering eight women. The evidence was circumstantial, but that doesn’t mean the crime that he’s committing is not a crime.”
The weight of the IRS’s entry into the investigation raised the stakes for Taylor. The fact a gun and the narcotic codeine were found with $300,000 in cash forced him to walk away from his bankroll. The government also seized a large quantity of jewelry.
“If he wanted to claim that money was his, he also had to claim the drugs and firearm were his,” Hughes said. “He decided to give up the $300,000.”
He pleaded guilty to a single felony tax evasion count last week, but Taylor also admitted pandering and living off the earnings of a prostitute in his federal plea memorandum. He’s also admitted pandering in a case filed in Justice Court. He acknowledged that he willfully evaded taxes for 2008-10. The investigation established his gross income was at least $231,000 in 2010, but a source close to the case admitted Taylor’s girls might easily have generated $1 million annually.
Although there’s a tendency to call prostitution a victimless crime, and Taylor wasn’t known as a violent pimp, in addition to the charges he pleaded guilty to there were plenty of signs of money laundering, leasing fraud, illegal drugs, guns and trick-roll robberies.
“We took a creative approach,” said Metro Vice Detective Dave Mason, who spent several months running down leads and gathering evidence. “It’s important to remember that it’s a continual criminal enterprise. It’s not just sex for money.”
Taylor had the good sense to hire experienced defense attorney Steve Stein, a veteran of state and federal courts. Stein’s timely entry of guilty pleas likely saved his client several years in prison.
In addition to the $300,000 cash forfeiture, Taylor is expected to receive an approximately two-year sentence and pay a six-figure restitution.
That Bentley and bankroll are history. Johnny Ray Taylor’s Las Vegas street game is over, and Metro and the IRS appear to have discovered a winning combination.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.