July 31, 2008
Couples Head to Miami for ‘World’s Largest Swingers Party’
MIAMI _ The beefy guy in a white T-shirt explained the ground rules of SwingFest to dozens of couples standing in line Thursday at the ritzy hotel in Hollywood.
No nudity at the hotel pool. No hitting on hotel staff. Other than that, it's anything goes, with organizers encouraging participants to treat the four-diamond Westin Diplomat Resort as their personal "playground."
The people waiting to register for what's billed as "the world's largest swingers party" looked like everyday folk who might be milling around a movie theater lobby. Except they had no popcorn or candy. One woman's open tote bag did include vibrating underwear and a length of rope.
With hundreds of couples signed up for the four-day SwingFest, it appears the swinging lifestyle has come a ways toward acceptance in South Florida since Broward deputies under Sheriff Ken Jenne raided two private clubs in 1999. Of the 55 swing-club patrons and employees hauled away in handcuffs, none was found guilty of a crime and most had their cases dropped by prosecutors.
"We didn't even look into that," Jason Jean, SwingFest's owner and organizer, said of South Florida's not-so-swinging past. "We literally chose it for the weather and the hotel."
Through Sunday, the hotel will host swingers from almost every state and 20 countries for lingerie parties, pool fests and "play rooms" that the SwingFest Web site promises will be "wild."
"With so much space available to us during the resort takeover, you're sure to find the room you desire," according to the event Web site. "Or just lounge by the pool and soak in the sexually charged atmosphere."
That atmosphere should make things interesting for the other conventioneers at the Diplomat: Pearson Media Group, a children's textbook maker.
SwingFest has an educational aspect, too. Speakers will lead seminars on topics like Legal Issues Affecting Swingers Clubs and Writing the Perfect Online Profile. If that's too tame, other symposiums will touch on Pole Dancing and Bondage for Beginners.
The swinger couples who came for the convention shelled out $300 for weekend passes, plus a few hundred dollars for a room at the Westin.
"It's a fairly affluent group," said Greg Freeman, SwingFest's marketing director. "We have lawyers, doctors, executives. Pretty much anyone and everyone."
Adult film star Mary Carey, the event's hostess, pouted at the hotel's check-in counter Thursday after being told her room wasn't ready.
"I just took a redeye to get here. I haven't slept, and my armpits probably smell," she said.
Carey, 28, had hoped to sneak in a quick shower and catnap before driving to her mother's house in Boynton Beach. Born Mary Ellen Cook, Carey is a 1998 graduate of Fort Lauderdale's posh Pine Crest School.
"I'm probably the only Pine Crest alum who went on to work in the adult industry," she said as a two-person film crew recorded her for a documentary.
After speaking with Carey, a Miami Herald reporter and videographer were told to surrender their footage and were escorted out of the hotel by a Westin public relations manager, despite having received media credentials from Freeman.
"The person who credentialed you didn't have the authority to do that," the manager, Michelle Shulman, said afterward. "This is a private event, and we have to respect the privacy of individuals attending the convention."
Swinging may not exactly be mainstream, but it is the subject of a CBS prime-time show titled Swingtown, set in an affluent lakeside suburb of Chicago in the '70s.
The South Florida clubs, including ones in Hollywood and Miami, have flourished since the 1999 raids aimed at putting them out of business.
Courts objected to the raids, which happened after undercover investigators hung out in Jacuzzis and observed men and women having sex.
Judges said in order for the swinger sex to be considered lewd, the acts had to be offensive to at least one person present, but that person could not be a police officer.
The Trapeze II club, one of the places BSO raided in 1999 _ netting teachers, cops, medical professionals and homemakers _ is no more, but a new Trapeze is located in Tamarac.
On Sunday, the Trapeze is hosting a SwingFest party, advertised as "sizzling with nonstop, hot, erotic excitement."
Don't expect a BSO raid.
Clubs have operated "without much police intervention" since the '99 busts, according to Fort Lauderdale attorney Daniel Aaronson, who helped defend the swingers. And former Sheriff Jenne, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges last year, is in prison.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Ely Portillo contributed to this report.)
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