Just what goes on behind closed doors in the gray stone house at 9440 47th St. in Brookfield?
Police, who have been called to the address a handful of times in the past month or so, would like to know. So would officials with the village of Brookfield, who tried unsuccessfully in July to close down a business operating at the address.
Since July 4, Brookfield police officers have visited the building twice to investigate complaints from men alleging they had responded to online ads and had paid for services – in one case a “therapeutic massage” and in another, sex – but received nothing in return.
Police also questioned a third man, who reportedly told them he was directed to 9440 47th St. after responding to an online ad for an escort named “Taylor.” He was there, he reportedly told police, to have sex with her.
No one has been charged with a crime in any incident police have responded to at the address.
On the Web site Backpage.com, where police were directed by one of the men to whom they’ve talked, there are more than 40 links to ads displaying photos of women in revealing outfits, many of the ads stating their location as in Brookfield on 47th Street, although a specific address isn’t given.
The site also contains two complaints, apparently from dissatisfied customers, who claim, listing 9440 47th St. specifically as the address, the place is a scam.
“Fellas you will feel like a fool if you fall for this old bait and switch scam,” one of the complaints reads. “Who knows how many different ads they run, but they will have you go to their ho house at 9440 w 47th st in Brookfield. There they will waste your time, take your money and leave you high and dry.”
Another online complaint, which specifically mentions 9440 47th St. as the address, states, “After I gave 200 she left the room for 10 minutes and came bac with her stupid lotion basket and asked me to hold out my hand for some oil standing there in her to small bathing suit telling me about tipping and saying whats wrong with you.”
The complaint, logged on July 11, references a specific online ad on Backpage.com for a “blond sexy princess” stating she was located in Brookfield. Part of the ad reads, “Allow me to invite you to my world where I cater to you granting your every wish of comfort, while enjoying the companionship with an exquisite beauty.”
Police first responded to 9440 47th St. on July 4 at about 7:15 p.m. In this instance, police were called by an employee of Frenchees Photography Studio who stated a customer came into the business to do a photo shoot. The customer, a 32-year-old Morton Grove man, reportedly gave the employee $100 for a camera so he could photograph a female model.
According to the police, the customer thought he was going to a massage parlor based on an online advertisement at Craigslist. Instead of getting a massage when he gave an employee the money, the man reportedly told police, he was given a camera to take pictures of two women. When the man told the employee he didn’t want to take pictures and asked for a refund, he was reportedly told he could fill out a refund request form, because the money was inaccessible.
Suspicious, police began keeping an eye on the comings and goings at the photo studio. On July 12, an officer saw a car park on DuBois Boulevard. After the squad car passed the vehicle, the car reportedly drove away in the opposite direction. The officer stopped the car and talked to the driver, a Midlothian man, who said he had answered an escort ad on Backpage.com and had been directed to 9440 47th St.
On July 15, police responded to another call at the business, this time from a customer. According to the police report, a 22-year-old Lockport man said he responded to an online ad for an escort and was told by a female to meet her at 9440 47th St. in Brookfield.
The man reportedly paid $200 “under the impression he’d be having sex with the escort.” Instead, he was reportedly handed a camera and took some pictures of a woman. When he asked about having sex, the man reported to police, he was told “anything ‘extra’ would cost an additional $200.” The man asked for his money back, according to the report, but was denied it.
An employee reportedly handed police a waiver form the man had signed but which, the man admitted, he had not read. The waiver, a copy of which was obtained by the Landmark, states that Frenchees is “a modeling photography studio only,” that models are not to be touched and that the models are independent contractors with whom customers work out payment agreements.
The waiver also states, “By signing this agreement, you state that you are not affiliated with any law enforcement agency.”
After reading the waiver he had signed, the man told police he misunderstood the services offered at the business and left without asking further for a refund.
The three incidents prompted the village of Brookfield to attempt to shut down the business.
On July 19, police and the village’s building inspector, Paul Trudeau, visited the business and met with its owner, Robert Hellyer. The 33-year-old Hellyer gave police an Arizona address, although the Illinois Secretary of State lists his address as Carol Stream.
Trudeau inspected the business and found it contained a reception area, two photo rooms and a security room containing video feeds from several surveillance cameras scattered around the property.
The photo rooms contained a few pieces of furniture. One of the rooms, according to a photo obtained by the Landmark from the village of Brookfield, includes a stuffed chair covered by what appears to be a white mattress cover as well as a small table topped by a lamp and a CD player. A photo of the other room shows a sofa with a slip cover and a similar small table set-up. Both rooms also had stand fans.
The security room includes a flat panel monitor showing at least seven video feeds – from the two photo rooms, a hallway, the reception area, the enclosed rear parking lot, and what appears to be the basement.
During their July 19 visit, police reportedly asked if they could see the video footage, but Hellyer told them “he doesn’t know how to operate the system,” according to the police report.
Trudeau handed Hellyer a code violation notice stating that the studio was shut down immediately. The ticket stated that the business license was not valid for the type of business being engaged in and also that the license was approved for a business with a different name.
In late June, the village approved giving a license to Hellyer for a business named Perfect Image. According to the license application, the business was for “a photography studio, specializing in promotional advertising.”
Hellyer responded to the shutdown notice by filing a motion in Cook County circuit court for a temporary restraining order, arguing that the village had violated its constitutional rights. The motion argued that Perfect Image and Frenchees were one and the same business and stated, “Plaintiff is at a loss to understand what kind of business Brookfield believes it is engaging in without an appropriate license.”
On July 29 the village backed off, quashing the two code violation notices and allowing Frenchees to reopen.
“While it may not be what you and I think of as a photography studio, there’s nothing we could have charged them on and the [police] reports indicated taking photos there,” said Village Attorney Richard Ramello. “If it’s something else, we need evidence. I didn’t believe we had evidence to move forward with the violations.”
Reached last week, Hellyer told the Landmark that Frenchees is a photography studio only.
“We do all types of photography,” Hellyer said.
Asked if someone could go to the business to have a portrait taken, Hellyer said, “If you need a photographer we will have one for you. You got to come talk to me and let us know what kind of shoot it is.”
But Hellyer was not interested in giving a Landmark reporter a tour of the business or in being interviewed about it.
“I have my own clientele,” Hellyer said. “I’m doing fine, and I don’t need help from anybody else.”
Caught in the middle of all this is the owner of the building, Mario Licitra, a longtime business owner in the village who fears his reputation will be tarnished if people connect him with whatever is going on at 9440 47th St.
“I really don’t know what’s going on,” said Licitra. “I’m fully cooperating with village officials and police. [Hellyer] tells me he’s running a respectable place over there, and says he has it all on tape, so there’s no hanky panky.”
Licitra said that the property, which used to house his roofing business, had been vacant for more than a year when Hellyer expressed interest in renting it. Licitra made more than $8,000 in upgrades to the property to bring it into code compliance and told Hellyer he needed a two-year commitment. According to Licitra, Hellyer gave him a security deposit and the final month’s rent before moving in.
“The next thing I know, I’m contacted by the village,” Licitra said. “I’m in a Catch 22. Everything I’ve done has been in good faith. I don’t know what’s happened from then ’til now.”