Fresh has it made. A self-described "young black entrepreneur," he says he has a team of workers who make $1,000 a day — and hand every dime over to him.
There's another word Fresh uses to describe his work: He is a pimp. He calls the young women who work for him his "family," and says he provides security and guidance in return for their hard-earned money.
"They sacrificed their minds, their hearts, their bodies for the nonsense that they go through every day for me," Fresh told Downtown's Don Dahler. "Therefore I give it my all, 110 percent. I give them protection, knowledge, guidance, wisdom, instructions, knowledge, understanding."
Downtown went to Atlanta last summer to report on what a juvenile court judge had called an "epidemic" of underage prostitution in the city. Federal prosecutors charged 15 people, accusing them of involvement in the coercion of young girls into prostitution. Thirteen of the defendants pleaded guilty to various charges, each receiving a sentence of at least five years in jail without parole. The remaining two defendants, Charles "Sir Charles" Pipkins and Andrew "Batman" Moore, went on trial Tuesday in federal court.
Fresh was not named in the federal case, and there is no indication that any of the women who work for him are under the age of 18. But Downtown decided to follow him for a weekend to get a glimpse into the seldom-seen world of modern-day pimping.
'A Pimp and Ho Town'
Fresh's real name is Kenneth Vaughn. He is 33 years old, and admits to doing at least six years in prison for drug dealing. He lives in Nashville, Tenn., but comes to Atlanta with his "girls" on working visits. "Man, I love Atlanta. You get plenty of respect," he told Downtown. "This is a pimp and ho town."
On the weekend Downtown followed him, Fresh had three women with him: two of his regulars, Blondie and Shyla, and a new worker, Rachel, whom he had picked up at a bus station in Nashville.
With a high turnover rate in the sex trade, recruiting is important, and pimps are always on the lookout for likely candidates. Bus stations are a favorite place.
Rachel, a blonde who says she is 19 but has a younger appearance that is highly valued in the sex business, sensed that Fresh was a pimp as soon as she met him. "He sounded like he was experienced when he opened his mouth," she said.
Rachel was already a veteran of the sex trade. She told Downtown she became a prostitute in New York City at the age of 10 — under the guidance of her mother. "She had a pimp and I had a separate pimp from hers. ... When I did try it, I was young, I was scared, I didn't know what to do, and my mom showed me through all that. So I learned very quickly."
Fresh so impressed Rachel that she decided to "choose up" from her current pimp and go to Atlanta with Fresh. In accordance with pimp custom, Fresh called the other pimp to "serve" him notice that he wanted to take one of women.
The pimp consented, so next it was up to Rachel to "buy in" with Fresh, or give him enough money to show she could be a good earner. So Rachel gave Fresh all the cash she had on her and cashed in her bus ticket. "I plan on staying with him for a while," she told Downtown.
Working the Hotel
On Saturday morning, Fresh brought Rachel to the hotel from which she and the other prostitutes would be working. Blondie and Shyla already had a "date" with a client who had seen their pictures on a Web site. Before taking them to the date, Fresh gave instructions to Rachel. He told her to look for clients in the hotel by walking through the pool area and the exercise room, trying to catch a man's eye.
"If them people look at you, then you give them the wink," he told her. "You give them the little signal. You're going to know the trick when you see him — and he's going to know you when he sees you. You understand?"
When Fresh and the others came back three hours later, Rachel produced a wad of $20 bills from her pants. Fresh was pleased, but not entirely satisfied: He told her she was far short of the $1,000 he expects from his women each day, and would have to do better the next night.
As Fresh told Downtown, the relationship between pimp and prostitute is about one thing: "It has to be understood that this is strictly about the money. This is not about sex. This is not about being a girlfriend and a boyfriend. This is about actually getting money from the adult entertainment industry."
And the money goes strictly one way, from prostitute to pimp. The young women who work for Fresh give all of their earnings to him. In return, he pays their living expenses and takes them on occasional shopping trips, but that is all.
Acting the Father Figure
The next morning, there was trouble, with Blondie and Shyla angrily accusing Rachel of not bringing in her fair share of money.
First, Fresh told all three women to stop arguing. Then he laid down the law: "What you do is go get my motherf---ing money tonight, tomorrow and for the rest of your motherf---ing life."
Then he consoled the women, at one point sitting Blondie on his lap and murmuring to her, "Why you sad?"
He later told Downtown that he was "building them back up" — restoring their trust in him. "Anybody can control a bitch's body ... but, man, it takes a hell of a man to control her mind," he said.
Fresh seemed to have firm control over the three women's minds. Blondie and Shyla each have a tattoo of his name, and Rachel said she planned on staying with Fresh "as long as I possibly can ... until we retire together."
When questioned alone, all three said they were free to leave Fresh at any time, but chose to stay of their own accord. During the weekend, Downtown saw no indication that Fresh used physical violence against the women, or threatened to.
Members of Atlanta's vice squad say pimps often target vulnerable young women from troubled backgrounds, many of whom grew up without a father figure in their lives.
"They're low-level hustlers that have the gift of gab. And they have a very, very keen sense of how to pick up on a young female's weakness," said police Lt. Tony Biello.
Biello and his colleagues complain that there is little they can do to put the pimps out of business. In Georgia, prostitution is a felony, but pimping is a misdemeanor. Officers complain that when they arrest suspected pimps, they post bail and get out of jail the same night. (After the federal underage prostitution case was filed last year, the state Legislature passed a law making it a felony to pimp an underage child.)
On Sunday night, Fresh drove Rachel to an area of Atlanta known as "the Track," a series of streets and strip malls where the lowliest prostitutes work. After giving her a tour of the area and showing her where he wanted her to walk, he let her out of the car into the night, alone.
When asked how he could do that to a 19-year-old he had said he was protecting and caring for, Fresh seemed to forget his "protection, knowledge, guidance" mission.
"Care for them in the sense of what?" he replied. "I care for them in the sense that they work for me, that they're my girls, that they're my ladies, that they have an understanding that we're going to get this money this way. If they don't want to do it, man, they can go work at McDonald's."
As it turned out, Rachel never showed up again. Fresh never saw her again, and, despite searching the Track for hours that night, nor did Downtown.
Fresh seemed unconcerned. "She could not show. She could not produce," he said. "She had the potential, but all women have the potential. See, hos are made, not born."