Arizona high priestess guilty of ‘sexual healing’

PHOENIX - The Phoenix Goddess Temple offered spiritual and touch-based healing services to "seekers" in exchange for donations.​ Some of these services included sexual gratification.

PHOENIX – A Maricopa County Superior Court jury found the leader of the Phoenix Goddess Temple guilty of all 22 criminal charges against her after a brief deliberation Wednesday.

Tracy Elise was found guilty on charges including conspiracy to commit illegal enterprise, illegal control of an enterprise, operating or maintaining a house of prostitution, multiple counts of money laundering and multiple counts of pandering.

After the jury read the verdict late Wednesday afternoon, Elise remained composed. “I never thought it would be like this,” she said.

She hugged her son and daughter before she was handcuffed and taken into custody.

Her sentencing date was set for April 8.

Phoenix police raided the Goddess Temple in 2011 after a grand jury indicted several members on charges of illegal control of enterprise, maintaining a house of prostitution and receiving the earnings of a prostitute.

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Wednesday was the 48th day in court in Elise’s trial, which had begun in early November. Final arguments in the long-running case concluded shortly before noon.

During the court proceedings, Elise wore a floor-length fuchsia dress with a printed fuchsia shawl, a silver scarf and silver ballet slippers.

Edward Leiter, deputy county attorney, wore a dark suit.

Before Leiter began addressing the jury in his final statements, Elise pulled objects such as sea shells, a sun figure with a mirror in the center, an hourglass filled with orange sand and what looked like tarot cards out of a wicker basket and arranged them on the defense’s desk.

Leiter reiterated the state’s prostitution statute and made a case as to how Elise’s activities violated that statute.

The Phoenix Goddess Temple began operating out of a residence in Scottsdale in 2008 before moving to a new location after neighbors complained and police made inquiries into church activities.

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In his presentation Wednesday, Leiter displayed a PowerPoint presentation listing the ways Elise’s management of the Phoenix Goddess Temple applied to the prostitution statute and implored the jury to “evaluate (Elise’s) credibility.”

Leiter argued that even if the sexual acts performed at the temple were spiritual in nature, the way money was exchanged in those sessions made it a prostitution enterprise. Elise previously testified that all money exchanged came in the form of donations.

Suggested donations — set by temple leadership including Elise — ranged from around $200 to more than $600.

“It wasn’t a donation,” Leiter said. He argued the idea of donations accepted for sessions was made up to “manipulate the system and manipulate you people (the jury).”

In previous testimony, Elise told the court that goddesses did not have to perform an act a seeker requested if she did not want to. Elise said if a goddess did not want to do something, another goddess who was willing would continue the session.

On a projector, Leiter displayed a “mutuality form” submitted as evidence in the case. The form was a list of goddesses and what services they were willing to provide.

“This form shows that this was absolutely a prostitution enterprise,” Leiter said. “If you don’t get what you want, someone else will do it for you.”

“Money being paid is icing on the cake,” he said. “The crime of prostitution has already occurred.”

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