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FRANCE: The Pimping Cops

3 minute read

The way to control the world of prostitution is to have intimate relations with it, insisted Louis Tonnot, commander of Lyon’s Brigade of Social Protection, as the French call their vice squads. “The best-dressed flic in France,” as his colleagues called him, Tonnot made no secret of his own close connections with the underworld. His mistress ran a dubious nightclub, and Tonnot allowed no interference from fellow cops on his beat. Last week Tonnot himself was under arrest in a widening scandal that has so far brought convictions for four madams, five pimps and six bordello operators—three of them Lyon cops.

Tonnot’s arrest added new headlines to a case that had already titillated France and embarrassed President Georges Pompidou’s Gaullist party. Prostitution is not illegal per se in France, but pimping and bordellos are. Moreover, the taint of scandal had spread from the flic-operators to party members in Lyon. One Gaullist deputy, Edouard Charret, was implicated when a local newspaper printed a picture of him attending the wedding of close friends. The groom, it turned out, was one of the city’s better-known pimps and the groom’s mother was a notable madam, as was the bride. All three were among those convicted. In a trial of three flic-bordello operators last week, one investigating policeman maintained that the nightclub Escuries du Roy (stables of the king) was actually a whorehouse—allegedly the most fashionable and expensive in Lyon—protected by Charret and Tonnot. In the wake of the disclosure Charret was forced to resign from the Gaullist party but announced his intention to run for re-election as an independent.

Testimony showed that Tonnot also provided protection for 14 lesser hotels de passe, some run by his colleagues. At first, the pimping cops merely scooped off profits. Eventually, in league with the girls, they forced out the owners and became operators themselves.

Defendant Jean Simonnin, 41, a police officer, had a simple explanation for how he became part owner of the three-room Hotel Baby. “I had saved up $6,000, and I figured that the Baby was a solid investment.” The court chided Pierre Isnard, 59, Tonnot’s deputy, for leading Simonnin astray. “You should have advised him, ‘Don’t get involved in this kind of business. If you want to become a pimp, wait until your retirement.’ ” Simonnin got a year in jail and a $14,000 fine. Isnard got three months and $10,000.

As the kingpin of the operation, Tonnot lived an obscure life to avoid what French tax collectors call “signs of exterior wealth.” He drove a bourgeois Peugeot 504 and kept his bank account low. In the end, however, exterior wealth was his undoing. The widening investigation turned up the fact that he owned a vineyard in the Jura mountains and a villa by the Mediterranean in addition to a $50,000 Lyon apartment (which alone might have been explained away by simple graft). Now, Tonnot, a Lyon University law graduate, faces a ten-year jail sentence and $50,000 fine: “I’m done for,” he sobbed when he was arrested. “I’m going to kill myself.” Pending trial, a considerate magistrate put him in a suburban jail rather than the Lyon lockup, where Tonnot might encounter pimps whom he had done out of a livelihood.

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