After a number of recent arrests, the owner of an Everett bikini barista franchise says his business is the target of a witch hunt.
"We're an easy mark," Grab-N-Go Espresso stand owner Bill Wheeler Jr. tells KIRO Radio's Ron & Don Show. He says going after their stands is a good way for the Everett police to get media attention. "That was their intention, that's what they got."
Everett police arrested four baristas at two Grab-N-Go locations in February. Police said the arrests were the result of a two-month undercover investigation following citizen complaints.
Investigators say at times no coffee would be sold but the women would be paid for exposing themselves in violation of the city's adult cabaret law.
Wheeler, the owner of the stand was then arrested last week, for investigation of felony sexual exploitation of a minor. One of the girls working at the stands, accused of exposing herself to customers, was apparently 16 years old.
Wheeler denies any wrongdoing and says he has very strict policies for his employees.
"The thing that upsets me the most is I do try to run a tight ship and I try to make sure everything is on the up and up. I have strict policies in place that if they do anything that gives my company an inappropriate image, they're terminated on the spot."
In regards to employing a 16-year-old, he says that is perfectly legal. "I had every legal right to have a minor work for me." But he says it's not really a typical thing, and generally requires some sort of special circumstance. "If a girl's 16, and she's going to college and lives on her own, I see that as kind of a special circumstance, especially when I have consent for them to work there from their legal guardian."
He further questions the police for soliciting a minor.
"If they would have coordinated with me I would have been more than willing to give them any information they wanted, but the solicitation of a minor I have a huge problem with that," says Wheeler. "That's like saying they were allowed to go over by a high school and solicit all the high schoolers over there for $20 to flash them real quick and then bust them for cabaret law then bust the teachers for pretty much pimping out the children of the school."
Wheeler says he wishes police would have indicated to him that they suspected a problem, and he would have been absolutely willing to assist them.
"When somebody's accused of something it's as simple as bringing it to my attention and I can review the [surveillance] footage and just terminate them on the spot, it's that simple," says Wheeler. "That's why I have a hard time dealing with this because they're trying to make it sound as if I'm running a brothel or something and I'm just running a business, an espresso stand."
This isn't the first legal trouble for Grab-N-Go. Several baristas were charged with prostitution back in 2009.
Wheeler Jr. has been running the Grab-N-Go franchise since 2010, after his father Bill Wheeler Sr. went missing. Wheeler's father has never been found after a trip to Las Vegas.
Wheeler says he is waiting to hear from his attorneys regarding the latest on the charges against him. He says the recent legal troubles have also made things difficult with his landlords, and he claims Everett PD has sent letters encouraging his landlords to evict him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.