Jail Bates?

Courtesy Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department

Thomas Brian Bates

Oklahoma Gazette | September 7, 2005
Admitted prostitute Renee McCullough told “Video Vigilante” Brian Bates on camera the frank facts of her life as a street hooker on South Robinson Avenue three years ago.

The area where she works, around the 3000 block, was careworn with hookers then and remains so today. Around 5 p.m., the women are there. A car will stop, a woman with a skimpy dress or low-cut top will lean down to the window, a moment of conversation be had, and then the woman gets in. One can find the same vehicle in a nearby alley or park, bodies in motion inside, completing the act. This is the path Bates chooses to walk with a camera.

He approached McCullough and her male companion, Gerald Loud, offering them $20 for an interview in the fall of 2002, he said. He told them he wanted to get prostitutes off the street.

McCullough explained her trade explicitly to Bates on the video. “That’s the difference between me and lots of the girls. I don’t sleep with the guys. I don’t lay down at all. I don’t do none of that. It’s just straight blow jobs with me,” she told him.

They talked for a while, Bates explaining his mission, McCullough and Loud explaining their lives.

“If you ever see me get in a car, would you follow me?” she asked Bates toward the end.

“Probably, yeah … but I won’t disrespect you,” he told her. “You know what you are doing is illegal.”

“Right,” McCullough answered. “This is the oldest profession in the world. They will never ever get rid of it.”

The video ended with what seemed to be cordial overtones. But that was more than three years ago. Now, McCullough is slated to testify against Bates, claiming he paid her $40 to conduct public sex acts so that he could get it on camera.

Bates is charged with pandering, which means being a pimp. A journalism student at the University of Central Oklahoma, Bates videos prostitutes in Oklahoma City as they meet with customers for sex. He posts many of these videos on his Web sites www.videovigilante.com and www.johntv.com. He said he has conducted this activity for nearly a decade. For years, law enforcement authorities openly supported Bates’ activities as positive community activism to reduce crime.

Now he’s out on bond and alleging he’s been set up by a husband and wife team, the Oklahoma City Police Department and Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane. McCullough, Bates claims, gets a free pass to continue her life hooking. Bates points to court records to back up his claims.

According to the records, McCullough, now 37, is wanted for missing an August court date on a charge of criminal trespassing related to prostitution. At the time the warrant was issued, McCullough was already out on bond after being arrested earlier this summer for prostitution, according to additional court records.

That arrest occurred after Bates’ footage appeared on a NewsChannel 4 story of McCullough walking the street along South Robinson, dressed in high heels and a short skirt, in an area known for prostitution. McCullough still appears to continue hooking, despite telling the judge in Bates’ preliminary hearing that she was not prostituting “today.” She previously told DA Lane that she was unable to conduct “business” because of Bates’ photographing her.

Records show Lane subsequently opened an investigation on Bates for intimidating a state’s witness, McCullough.

Bates and his attorney, Scott Adams, deny the allegation. Bates points to McCullough’s continued transgressions as proof she is without credibility as a witness.

“We have a pattern of behavior. That is how you would define someone’s credibility,” Bates said. “She has spent most of her life breaking the law and circumventing the system. Throw in the fact the DA’s office only seems to encourage her, and I think this is only going to get worse.”

Bates claims the act is retribution because he caught a private investigator’s husband having sex with a prostitute, and has documentation and video to back it up.

What is true?

Lane issued this statement to Oklahoma Gazette:

“Mr. Bates would like everyone to believe that the reason his case was filed was out of some sort of conspiratorial plot on my and the Oklahoma City Police Department’s part to somehow ‘get even’ over allegations he made against us in the Donald Pete case. Simply put, the reason he is charged is because his voice is on tape saying things that we believe and allege to be a crime. Mr. Bates’ very public defense is that this is everybody’s fault but his. The bottom line is that journalists (as he refers to himself) do not get to aid and abet criminal conduct in order to further their career. They are subject to the law like everyone else. Unlike Mr. Bates and his constant public ranting, we prefer to try this case before a jury and not in the media.”

Lane has not shared with the public the tape in which he claims Bates incriminates himself.

But Bates has a pile of videos and documents, claiming they show the fix is in.

Pete’s sake

The beating of Donald Pete by Oklahoma City police officers in 2002 sent a shock wave through national media already sensitized by the beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1992. Bates followed a prostitute hooking up with a john (Pete) and had caught them on camera. The unedited tape shows that when an officer arrived, he approached with his gun drawn and pointed it at Pete.

“I’m gonna fuckin’ shoot you right in the head,” the officer announced to Pete.

Through a desperate series of efforts, the officer, eventually joined by another, attempted to tackle the man. They pepper sprayed him, hit him on the back and legs with batons and eventually subdued him.

When Bates released the tape, there were fears of violence among the city’s outraged black community, though riots never materialized. Former Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys and other city leaders formed an ad-hoc town meeting to ask for calm. DA Lane promised a thorough investigation. Eventually, Lane brought forth the tape and played it publicly, explaining every action taken by the officers as correct police procedure. But Bates noticed someone altered the tape.

“We’re all sitting in the auditorium,” Bates said. “They go to play the video. I’m waiting for it. I thought, ‘Here it comes. Man, are they going to spell out “fuckin” on there? Are they going to bleep it out? What are they going to do?’ You can’t hear it and it says, ‘in-audible.’”

Bates claims that the first minutes, when the officer approached the car and told Pete he was going to kill him, caused Pete to resist the officers. If the officer conducted the arrest professionally and appropriately, the outcome would have been different, Bates said.

Bates claims this point is crucial because he alleges Lane’s office changed the tape. Bates said he called KTOK-AM and played the tape for them. The original recording catches the statement clearly, Bates said.

Then-Police Chief M.T. Berry said profanity could be clearly heard on the police copy although it apparently was inaudible on Lane’s version of the video, The Oklahoman


“The tape they used in order to do that transcription (for Lane) was third- or fourth-generation. Ours was a second-generation tape, and it was clear on ours,” Berry said.

With that, Bates’ once cozy relationship with both Lane’s office and the Oklahoma City Police Department soured, he said. There were threats, Bates said. Officers would park in front of his house at all hours, “doing paperwork,” he said.

E-mails warned “watch your back. You’re gonna need us someday.”

“Once Donald Pete happened, you would think I had betrayed the police department,” Bates said. “Definitely prior to Donald Pete, there were many officers who were openly supportive. After Donald Pete happened, not a single officer would be openly supportive. There was open hostility after the Donald Pete thing.”

Although officers used his video often and responded to his calls to the point of giving him their personal cell numbers, now the tables were turned. Bates said he was ripe for a fall.

Bail bondsman bingo

Catching bail bondsman Russell Franklin with a hooker began his current troubles, Bates said. Bates shot a video of a woman fellating a man in the parking lot of a bingo hall near

I-35 and S.E. 44th Street.

“Well, one day, a regular day, I’m out there videotaping and this minivan pulls up,” Bates said. “It’s a black male, picks up a mix white-black female prostitute. They drive to 44th and High. There’s a bingo hall right there. They park the minivan. I’ve got it all on videotape. I walk up.”

Bates said he occasionally opens the door of a car or minivan to get a better shot with his camera. He calls it “very controversial.” He opened the door of the minivan.

“Guy’s getting a blow job. Freaks out, takes off and leaves,” Bates said.

Typical reaction, according to Bates. He called the police, then chatted with the security personnel from the bingo hall who came out. Bates said they knew him there.

“They’ve seen me bust people out there. So they come out. We’re all joking, talking. Couple of minutes later, here comes the minivan, with the hooker. The guy’s just distressed,” Bates said.

Bates said the man got out of the van and the hooker ran away. According to Bates, the man told him, “I’ve been married for 25 years. I’ve got four kids.”

“Then why would you come out here?” Bates said he asked. “So is this your first?

“No,” the man answered, according to Bates. “I pick up girls. Not that often. But every few months, I’ll pick up a girl. And oh, please don’t do this.”

Bates said he stalled the man with chitchat until the police arrived and arrested him. When they were cuffing him, Bates saw the pistol the man carried.

“He ends up being a bail bondsman. So they arrest him. I think, ‘No big deal.’ I thought he was an off-duty sheriff or worked somewhere. So I ignored it,” Bates said.

Records show, along with a photograph of the same man on Bates’ video of the incident, that police arrested a bondsman named Russell Eugene Franklin on Sept. 21, 2004. Seized along with his pistol were two pairs of handcuffs and shackles he carried, as well as pepper spray and a collapsible A.S.P. baton. Police booked Franklin into jail on a charge of engaging in an act of public


Within two weeks, Bates said, hookers started telling him of a female investigator trolling the south side, looking for hookers who “had something” on him.

“‘Brian, there’s some white female bail bondsman down here handing out her business card and she’s trying to find dirt on you …” Bates said a prostitute told him.

One day, Bates said, while driving around south Oklahoma City taking footage, he saw a prostitute he knew who approached him and pointed to a car nearby.

“This hooker comes up and goes, ‘That’s that woman. That’s the woman that’s trying to get dirt on you,’” Bates said. “So I go pull up behind her, get out of the car and I said, ‘Ma’am, would you like to talk to me? I hear there’s a problem, that you’re really trying to get these girls worked up.’”

The woman told him her name was Carol Franklin, Bates said. According to Bates, she told him she had learned he was running a scam and thought it was wrong. When he tried to argue with her, she told him she didn’t want to talk to him anymore. Bates said he backed off.

When contacted by the Gazette, Carol Franklin, a private investigator, confirmed most of this account, although she differed greatly on the substance of the conversation. She said Bates approached her and asked rude, insinuating questions. She said she asked him to leave her alone.

“He said, ‘Do you like prostitutes?’” Franklin said. “I said, ‘I asked you to leave me alone.’ He said, ‘Would you like to take some prostitutes home with you?’ I said, ‘I asked you to leave me alone.’ That was my response. But then he said … ‘Oh, I know. Maybe your mother was a prostitute. Your mother was a prostitute, is that it?’”

Bates denies this account.

“This stuff would never come out of my mouth. I would not have survived on Robinson for 10 years if I treated people that way,” Bates said.

Franklin, however, emphasized that the matter with Bates at this point became very personal, an irritation for which she would seek retribution. She said her profession gave her access to information on Bates.

“His own words are what fanned the flame for me to make sure I found out everything about him,” she said. “I have a PI license, I have a client. That’s all I needed. That’s when things really went bad for him. Just like any other female, any other wife, I needed some answers for myself.”

Franklin said she wanted her inclusion in the Gazette’s story


“I’m telling you some of this and hopefully you will lessen anything about me in your story. I would really appreciate that. You don’t want me to come looking for you next,” Franklin said. She laughed. “No, just kidding.”


catches a break

“Never thought about it again until the bail bond association gets hold of me,” Bates said of the encounter. “A guy in the bail bond association says, ‘I hear you collared Russell Franklin.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’”

The bondsman said he wanted a copy of the tape because Franklin was set to lose his license for committing a crime of moral turpitude. Bates agreed to provide the tape, he said.

“He said, ‘We hear Carol Franklin’s been trying to cause you problems,’” Bates said.

After the bondsman described the woman, and Bates described her car, the situation became clear, Bates said.

“Well, I never put the two together because I didn’t know he was a bail bondsman at the time. I didn’t realize that was his wife,” Bates said. “So I realize who she is now. I never see her again. Well, then all of a sudden one day, I’m arrested.”

According to Oklahoma City police reports, Carol and Russell Franklin approached police last fall through a third bondsman, David Dunn of Abraham’s Bail Bonds, with a story about a hooker who had something on Bates.

“Bates is a person known to this department and to the Vice Enforcement Unit,” according to a police report. “Bates often frequents high prostitution areas and will often videotape prostitutes engaging in acts of lewdness with their ‘customers.’ Bates will often submit these tapes to investigators so that the persons on the tape can be identified and prosecuted.”

In the report, Dunn told the officers his “fellow bondsman,” Franklin, was “arrested as a result of Bates’ efforts.” Dunn allowed as how Franklin “has fully admitted his guilt in the incident.”

“Franklin and his wife, Carol, have received information through various channels since Russell’s arrest concerning Bates and some of his activities that might be unethical or even illegal,” Dunn told the officers, according to the report.

“Dunn said that he was recently advised by Carol of information she learned from a known prostitute named Renee McCullough. Dunn said that McCullough informed Carol that Bates will often pay girls to ‘set up’ clients or ‘johns.’

“Dunn reiterated that Russell Franklin has admitted that he had made a mistake as it related to his arrest on September 21st, and that this was not an attempt to avoid prosecution on those charges,” according to a police report. “He said that they were simply just acting on information that they had received and thought police might be interested in following up the information.”

Court records show that Carol Franklin had bonded out Loud, a longtime male companion to McCullough.

After bringing McCullough and Loud to the Oklahoma City police, Russell Franklin’s sentence was reduced to disorderly conduct, court records show.

Following the meeting with Dunn, two OCPD detectives, Jason Hodges and Chris Swanson, arranged to meet with Carol Franklin and McCullough at a restaurant on S.E. 29th and Shields. According to the report, the meeting was recorded.

Knife knuckles

The charge of criminal trespassing against McCullough, for which she skipped her court date and now faces arrest, are related to her profession as a prostitute, records show.

Police arrested McCullough, another woman and Loud, McCullough’s male companion, at Garden Park apartments on July 12 for criminal trespassing, police records show.

Police described a vacant apartment filled with beer bottles, used condoms and trash.

“This apartment complex is known for prostitution and gang activity,” the report states.

When Oklahoma City Municipal Courts issued the arrest warrant in August, McCullough was already out on $500 bond after being arrested weeks ago for charges of soliciting money for sex, according to additional court records.

McCullough’s first charges for soliciting prostitution go back to 1987, according to state records. McCullough served prison time from 1992 through 1994 for possession of a controlled dangerous substance, from 1991 through 1997 for possession of cocaine, for escape from the penitentiary from 1995 though 1997, for possession of drug paraphernalia in 1997 and for possession of cocaine from 1997 through 1999.

On July 31, police arrested McCullough carrying marijuana and “metal knuckles, which had two knife blades on each end,” police records show.

State prison records show Loud was incarcerated for unlawful possession of cocaine after a felony conviction, serving part of a 20-year sentence from 1991 though 2001. On Aug. 9, he was handed down a sentence of 10 years probation for a charge of possession of a controlled dangerous substance. In 1989, he pleaded guilty to grand larceny, court records show.

Even though Oklahoma has a version of three-strikes-you’re-out as it relates to felonies, Bates said Loud’s probation is in return for McCullough’s testimony two months prior.

In Bates’ preliminary hearing in June, McCullough admitted her criminal history. She also testified that Bates eventually paid her to perform sex acts on johns.

“Me and Brian had made an agreement that if he caught me, that he would not send none of my tapes in to the police, that me or the guy, the john, would not get busted, we would not go to jail, and that he would pay me $40 extra to let him catch me in the act,” McCullough told Assistant Oklahoma County DA Greg Mashburn at the hearing.

Paying $40 to perform on video is relatively inexpensive compared to potential profits, if the DA’s allegations are proved true. Bates e-mailed the Gazette that “I was paid $15,000 by ‘The Maury (Povich) Show.’ $8,000 was paid all at once for non-appearances to fulfill my contract.”

Bates posted on his Web site at www.johntv.com that he charges for video footage he provides to talk shows or entertainment shows, but not to news organizations. Nevertheless, he claims he did not want or need to pay McCullough for sex acts on camera.

“I had zero motives to pay Renee or anyone for anything. I actually made more money not appearing than appearing,” Bates said.

Many times in the course of Bates’ preliminary hearing, McCullough got confused, often admitting she couldn’t remember what dates or times things occurred or what was said. She repeatedly said she could not remember, 22 times. When asked about her profession outside the dates in which police allege Bates had an agreement with her, she said, “I plead the Fifth” seven times. She also said she was not a prostitute “today” but expressed outrage that Bates had posted her on his Web site. She told Bates’ attorney she should be able to carry an illegal concealed weapon without anyone knowing, according to the transcript.

“Well, for one, he’s got me up on there, he’s got my whole identity, everything I do, where I go, what I pack, what weapons I pack. I mean, that’s not fair to me. I mean, any guy can get up on in the Internet and see, well, she’s packing a knife,” she told Bates’ attorney Adams during cross-examination. “That’s not fair to me. He’s telling them where I’m going, where I’m taking my johns, on the Internet.”

“And that makes you mad?” Adams asked.

“Well, why wouldn’t it?” McCullough said.

In the end, Bates was bound over for trial. Adams pleaded with Oklahoma County District Judge Gregory J. Ryan that Bates was being prosecuted not for actually committing a crime, but because Lane’s office has “an absolute distaste” for Bates.

“And now he’s charged with now five felony offenses, two to 20. He’s looking at 100 years in our penitentiary for this. And it’s the biggest stretch I have ever seen, and I just cannot fathom how we got to this point to where Mr. Bates is sitting here staring down the barrel of five felonies for what he has done,” Adams said.

Ryan, however, said Bates’ trial, set for Jan. 9, would rest on the issue of McCullough’s credibility.

“It seems the State’s case is going to hinge on whether or not Ms. McCullough’s testimony about what did or did not take place between her and Mr. Bates did occur and occurred in the manner and the fashion which she described,” Ryan said.

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