A Star Is Porn

An attempt to shoplift from SoBe's Pleasure Emporium may make you famous

Despite the trophies mounted on the wall nearby, Juana Moraes is bemoaning the one that got away.

"This man came in and he grabbed one of the double dildos, the big ones, and he ran out like he saw the devil," recalls Moraes, assistant manager of South Beach's Pleasure Emporium on Fifth Street. "He was fast. He escaped."

Moraes takes comfort, though, in the fact that 34 other people were not so quick. Their pictures, Polaroids about four-by-four inches, are tacked up opposite the cash register in a rogues' gallery of porn thieves called the "Hall of Shame." It is an innovative way of attacking shoplifting that works like this: Anyone caught trying to boost an item is given the choice of posing for a mug shot or waiting while store workers call the police. Most of the photos include driver's license numbers and a list of stolen goods.

For instance, a man named Christopher from southwest Miami allegedly tried to take a "Freaky Alien 12-inch Dildo" on February 21, 1998. (This is apparently a popular item. It was sold out last week.) Kuhn did not return repeated calls from New Times seeking comment.

Moraes has worked at the Pleasure Emporium, located in a pink building about four blocks west of Ocean Drive, for two of the three years it's been open. In jeans and a polo shirt, her long brown hair held back by a barrette, Moraes looks like she could be an assistant manager at Home Depot. "This is not a bad place, you know," she remarks. "This is just a store. It's like going to the supermarket."

Indeed, the Pleasure Emporium is the Publix of fetish and fantasy, a veritable cornucopia of copulation aids. There are 25,000 video titles to choose from and a toy selection that is, well, humongous. One wall is devoted almost entirely to dildos of varying girths and lengths. Sexy underwear, magazines, oils, candies, and more bulge from racks throughout the store.

Owner Michael Pulwer had the idea for the Hall of Shame soon after the store opened, Moraes says. Although it's unclear whether it has reduced petty theft, it certainly has given store employees and clients a prurient peek into others' lives.

The profiles of these petty larcenists are varied, Moraes declares. About 30 percent are bums and homeless people who hope to sell the videos and sex toys on the street. The other 70 percent are "just normal people," she adds. "A lot of them do it because they are embarrassed to go to the register to pay. Especially the ones who want the gay and transvestite films."

Among these normal people is Barbara, a friendly faced 52-year-old woman accused September 13, 1998, of trying to swipe "Lickit & Luvit Chocolate Love Cream," a $10.95 value, and a $17.95 set of nipple clamps. Barbara returned a message left at her Miami Beach residence from California, where she's currently living. "It was a mistake," she says, adding in a rush of words, "I never did that. I was, like, at my car when they approached me. I didn't know who they were. I had never been at the store, I didn't have anything on me. I just ran in there because someone was looking for something. I had a remote from my garage that set their alarm off."

Store workers even bagged a minor celebrity about three years ago: Antonio, a nightlife columnist for Miami Metro magazine and South Beach party promoter. He was caught trying to make off with a gay video titled Bangin' Da' Hood. Antonio declined to elaborate on the theft, saying only: "Well, it's a fact. I'm not going to deny it. That episode happened long ago. I've tried to put that behind me."

Then there's Jorge, a 34-year-old from Miami Beach, who store workers accused of trying to take off with some unidentified videos on an unspecified date. "Yes, I remember," Jorge says morosely. "It was a mistake. What can I tell you? You aren't going to put my name in the paper?"

But of the nearly three dozen people who posed for the photos, sixteen didn't have identification. Or at least they claimed not to have it. Employees settled for just a photo so the person could be recognized if they returned. No police were called in any of these cases. One of these John Does, a skinny man with long blond hair and a dirty blond mustache, has the distinction of twice appearing on the wall. On May 6, 1998, he allegedly tried to steal San Francisco Lesbians #5. Seven months later he attempted to pinch some more videos. This time they labeled his picture "Bum."

"This is a very unusual method of combatting shoplifting," says Miami Beach Police spokesman Al Boza. "It certainly guarantees embarrassment."

Boza says Florida stores lose about $1 billion annually to shoplifters, a cost passed to consumers. As a result, he says, "shoplifting is a crime in which the merchant has a lot of latitude." Indeed, Florida law allows officers to arrest a shoplifter even if they did not witness the crime. All that's needed is a statement from a store worker.

Yet the Hall of Shame gives Boza pause. He questions whether the people knew what they were getting into. "I guess I'm wondering how educated was (the suspect's) consent?" he queries. "People may be making a choice under difficult circumstances. Why would they throw away their chance to clear their name in court?"

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...