Lexington’s legacy of corruption and vice has a long history and continues to this day. Lexington’s ties to prostitution and corruption can be traced all the way back to it’s founding. While Lexington cleaned up, at least on the surface, for years, these issues have found their way into the headlines steadily for the past 20 years. Most recently popping up in the KLC, Airport Board, local elections and the city’s auditing scandals. The characters and organizations may change over time but the one constant remains the connection to vice and specifically prostitution and the adult industry.
Mary Belle Cox was born on June 16, 1860, in Lexington, Kentucky. She was the second illegitimate daughter of Sarah Ann Cox, dressmaker and occasional prostitute. A year later, Sarah Ann Cox married George Brezing, local saloon owner, and Mary Belle and her sister Hester’s last name were changed to Brezing.
On December 24, 1879, Brezing began to work for Jennie Hill, a madam who ran a brothel out of the Mary Todd Lincoln house at 578 West Main St. Brezing worked there for two years until she had saved enough money to start her own house and assume the position of madam.
Brezing opened her first brothel in a row house at what is now 314-318 North Upper St. Around this time, Brezing was indicted on the charge of “keeping a bawdy house.” Kentucky Governor Luke P. Blackburn (1879-1883) pardoned Brezing and the indictment was dismissed. This was the closest Brezing ever got to serving jail time.
She eventually even appeared as the character Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. This began Lexington’s infamous connection to the world’s oldest profession.
A quick history to bring us up to date:
- September 1985 Kentucky Blue-blood Andrew Thornton II parachuted to his death on a rural Kentucky farm wearing night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest and $75 million dollars worth of cocaine. This opened up the floodgates to corruption involving drug-smuggling, police cover-ups and murder. Three books, The Bluegrass Conspiracy, Means to an End and The FBI KIller all detail the ‘good ol’ boy’ tradition of corruption in the 70s and 80s.
- 1997 Kent Downey, former director of operations for the state House of Representatives, pleads guilty to federal prostitution and gambling charges. Legislators and lobbyists had been entertained by naked adult entertainers during gambling, golf and sex junkets. There were even liquor-fueled parties in a Capitol office with a ‘condom tree’ on display. Franklin County Circuit Judge, William Graham, ruled to keep the 73 legislators and government employees’ names from being released to the public stating the material is “highly personally embarassing”.
- December 1999 Escort agency owner, Deborah Wardlaw, threatens to sue the city and call out officers involved in extortion if the city passes an ordinance regulating private adult entertainment. Ms. Wardlaw claims to have been threatened by the officers involved and starts to go public. Days later Ms. Wardlaw is found murdered in her apartment and the officers she named as threatening her are placed on her case to investigate her murder. The case is currently unsolved.
- 2000 Lexington City Council passes the new Escort Ordinance. This new ordinance basically boils down to stating that the city knows escorts are equivalent to prostitutes. But, as long as the agency and the escort pay their fees they may continue providing prostitution with less obstruction from the city and vice squad.
- 2009 State Auditor, Crit Luallen, begins investigations into KaCo, Kentucky League of Cities and the Lexington Airport Board. In each of these cases there were findings of rampant corruption. Again, public credit cards were used to charge thousands of dollars to high-end strip-clubs and escorts.
- 2010 Local elections begin and continue with more accusations of corruption and vice. First, I use the campaign to bring to Lexington’s attention the unsolved murder of Deborah Wardlaw and other city corruption. Mayor Newberry claims that the police officers that may have murdered Ms. Wardlaw are important and Deborah’s life was not and thus the reason he won’t investigate the officers for murder (See attached video). One of the officers mentioned by Deborah Wardlaw as threatening her is currently running for Constable, Harry Winings, and another former escort agency owner is running for the mayor’s office, Will McGinnis.
Currently, city employee, Patrick Johnston, has made accusations of fraud and corruption involving the city’s insurance procurement process. The fraud allegations involve the Kentucky League of Cities and ACE insurance, the company KLC brought in to handle the city’s business. When the allegations first came out, Patrick Johnston’s job was eliminated due to a routine audit and cut-backs.
The All-tech World Equestrian Games will bring the world to Lexington and Lexington to the world starting in August. Will Lexington be able to return to it’s roots of beautiful women and fast horses or will we remain famous having fast women and beautiful horses?
I’ll be following this story and the stories from Lexington’s courthouses weekly. Please feel free to comment, contact me or add any information pertaining to this article.