Hartford man pleads guilty in federal case involving strip club dancers forced into 'prostitution dates'

Christopher Childs

MILWAUKEE -- A Hartford man indicted in connection with a sex trafficking investigation pleaded guilty on Sept. 9 to one count of the seven-count indictment. He could face five years to life in prison.

Christopher Childs entered the plea to sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion charge for allegations occurring between January 2004 and December 2009, according to the plea agreement.

In addition to prison time, Childs faces a maximum fine of $250,000, three years' maximum of supervised release, mandatory special assessments totaling $5,100, and restitution. The remaining counts were dismissed as a result of the plea deal.

According to federal prosecutors, from 2004 through December 2009, Childs operated as a pimp in strip clubs in the Milwaukee area and elsewhere, and he would recruit women, including the victim, along with at least one minor, to work for him. They would perform prostitution dates, and were required to give him the proceeds. He would take the women to strip clubs and other locations inside and outside of Wisconsin, including clubs known as TNT and The Hardware Store. Prosecutors said to prevent the women from leaving him, he would, at times, use force or threats of force, and he worked with employees at the various clubs to manage and coerce the women.

FOX6 News spoke with Radomir Buzdum, co-owner of Silk Exotic, who also owned Wild Rose Gentlemen's Club, formerly TNT, shortly after these allegations came to light. Buzdum told FOX6 he was an "absentee owner," despite the fact that federal court documents indicated he had full knowledge of what prosecutors say went on in the club, which Buzdum denied. Buzdum told FOX6 he had a "dirty manager," who was fired, and the business was put up for sale. Buzdum was not charged with a crime.

The victim connected to the charge to which Childs pleaded guilty met him in 2004. Prosecutors said Childs "acted as though he was interested in a romantic relationship with" her. She said not long after they met, she became stranded in Minnesota, and reached out to Childs. He offered to buy her a bus ticket to Milwaukee if she would move in with him, and she agreed.

When she returned to Milwaukee, she said Childs offered to get her a job as a dancer at a strip club. At one point, as he was driving her to the club, he said when she got home, his "other half" would be there. This person would supervise the other dancers who were working with Childs, with prosecutors noting Childs made financial arrangements with club owners, managers, bartenders, and bouncers to arrange, manage, and receive payment for prostitution dates.

The woman said Childs laid out his rules and expectations, including that he be given all of the money she earned from stripping. She said she "chose not to question the arrangement both out of fear and because Childs was providing her with food and shelter." She said initially, Childs joked about the woman engaging in prostitution in addition to stripping, but after a few months, he brought home a friend and explained that person was going to pay for sex with the woman, prosecutors said. He worked to convince her that prostitution "was not so bad."

The woman said from that point on, there was at least one prostitution date per night after a full shift stripping in various clubs. According to prosecutors, Childs told her stories about the manner in which he punished his girls in the past -- even using physical force against the woman. According to prosecutors, on one occasion, Childs accused the woman of having sex with a man for free, and he pinned her to a bed in their motel room and immediately slapped her in the face to the point she developed bruises. When she went to the strip club the next day, the owner wouldn't let her dance unless she made a police report. She said she did not follow through with prosecution because Childs prevented her from going to court. She said when she didn't want to work on her birthday, Childs choked her.

In 2006, when the woman became pregnant, she said Childs sent her back to live with her parents. Two months after the baby was born, Childs had her move to Green Bay to live with a friend of his -- directing her to resume stripping and going on prostitution dates for his financial benefit.

She was required to get a tattoo of his name to show that she was his property, prosecutors said.

The woman said she would follow Childs' rules because she had no money and was afraid. She said he worked constantly to destroy her self-confidence while promising she could be his exclusive girlfriend if she pleased him.

An initial criminal complaint referenced at least four victims, and allegations from October 2015 through May 2017 in Dodge County -- filed in March 2018.