A former airline pilot admitted to running a string of brothels in Houston, but escaped prison time with a plea deal. It is possible the conviction may not even appear on his record so that private entities would be unable to see it.
Bruce Wayne Wallis, a 53-year-old former pilot for United Airlines, pleaded guilty to running a sophisticated brothel ring. The chain of brothels reportedly included a half-dozen brothels with six to 10 prostitutes, spanning across many office buildings and apartments in Houston. United suspended Wallis upon his arrest.
For this crime, Walls was sentenced to five years deferred adjudication, a $2,000 fine, and 150 hours of community service. He will not be allowed to fly, but he will be able to reapply for his pilot license after five years.
This sentence seems particularly lenient, as deferred adjudication is merely a type of probation. If the confessed brothel keeper does not break his probation, his case will be “dismissed.” In deferred adjudication, the judge “defers” the finding of guilt. For this reason, pleading guilty for deferred adjudication is not considered a conviction under Texas law.
Indeed, if Wallis serves his probation, a criminal background check will show the arrest for the charge and the deferred adjudication, but it will not show a conviction. If the confessed brothel keeper breaks his probation, however, he will be opened to the entire range of punishment — in this case, likely five years in prison.
Even so, the benefits of Wallis’ sentence appear wide-ranging. Since it is not considered a conviction, it prevents many consequences of conviction. For example, Wallis will be able to reapply for his pilot’s license after five years. The confessed brothel keeper can also file a petition for non-disclosure, which would essentially seal the criminal record of the offense from private entities, effectively hiding the offense from potential employers or landlords.
Houston police officers found Wallis’ prostitution ring after a confidential informant told investigators there was a drop box where girls placed so-called “rent” money every week to pay the brothel keeper. The investigation began on a nondescript building at 10333 Northwest Freeway, ABC 13 news reported. Vice officers were initially trying to bust a ring of brothels at suite 422.
Court documents said that girls were charging $100 for a half hour, to include a back massage and a hand job. So-called “full service” would cost $200 or more.
As part of the plea deal, an earlier charge of aggravated promotion of prostitution against Wallis was dropped.
State District Judge Jim Wallace said Wallis did not coerce any of the prostitutes into their business, the Houston Chronicle reported. “What you did was despicable. But you didn’t endanger any lives and you did not force anybody to do this,” Wallace said.
Civil rights organizations criticized the lenient sentence, saying black and Hispanic pimps and madams are routinely sentenced to decades of prison time, while the white man Bruce Wayne Wallis was not.
“It’s just another case of what African-Americans would call White Privilege,” Dr. James Douglas, president of the NAACP branch in Houston, told the Chronicle. “You get a break for being white and it’s something we’ve lived with all of our lives, especially in the criminal justice area.”
“If that was someone who looked like me, they’d be under the jail right now,” Ashton Woods, a Black Lives Matter activist in Houston, told the Chronicle. “It appears that white men these days are getting off really easy. I’m not surprised, to be honest.”
Wallis’s attorney said the former brothel owner was remorseful and that probation was a just result. “I think he learned what he did was a crime,” Dan Cogdell, the lawyer, said. Wallace “did the right thing because it allows Mr. Wallis to accept responsibility and move forward and be a productive member of society.”
Cogdell said the sentence was within the acceptable range for the crime. He further noted that early reports suggesting Wallis used his position as a commercial pilot to move women, gold bars, and millions of dollars in an international sex trafficking ring were speculation and turned out to be false.
“When you recognize this for what this was, it certainly wasn’t a great idea, but it wasn’t the crime of the century that they initially made it out to be,” the lawyer said of his brothel-running client.