BEDFORD, Ohio – An elderly man is behind bars, accused of running a large prostitution ring out of an office building. He faces 15 felony charges, including promoting prostitution and money laundering.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors claim James Walsh, 71, of Willoughby Hills operated a “House of Prostitution.” The organization was run on the third floor of this office building he owns on Northfield Road in Bedford.
They said he supervised a staff of women who provided services ranging from nude massages, to sex acts, to hundreds of clients this year.
“I was surprised, really surprised, especially when I saw the building on the news. I was here on the day the police came, but all they said was something had happened on the third floor, and there was no need for us to be alarmed,” said Sharon Rush, who works in the building.
People who work in the building, which houses other businesses, said they had no idea what was going on upstairs.
“I’ve never been higher than the second floor, so I’ve never even seen the third floor. To know that, that was so close to my job, it’s a little unsettling,” said Damon Deans.
Investigators said the business was called “Studio 54.”
According to its website, it invites customers to “Come relax with some of Ohio’s sexiest girls.”
One of the women who said she worked at Studio 54 for a year and a half, sent Fox 8 a series of text messages.
One said, “It was not a brothel, we didn’t do sex acts.”
Prosecutors said Bedford police starting investigating Walsh earlier this year after one of his ‘sex workers,’ as they put it, apparently overdosed.
The woman who we contacted said, “There was no drug usage there. He drug tested each girl to make sure there wasn’t. The girls who were caught doing sex acts were fired and not let back.”
She went on to tell us, “The cops and feds are blowing this whole situation out of proportion.”
“We never saw any kind of activity there.” “Perfectly normal,” said Paul Donato, who runs an adult daycare across the street.
“I still thought, he was an older guy that liked young women, because I saw the same blonde all the time. If she wasn’t with him in his truck, she was driving his truck, so I just left it at that,” said Rush.
Prosecutors said customers of Studio 54 were required to sign a waiver that they were not undercover police officers. They said some men used credit cards to pay for their services. Investigators said they are evaluating the names of everyone in the records.
As part of the indictment, authorities are requesting that Walsh forfeit the office building, $6,750 in cash, and two vehicles.
He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday morning.