Charge: Grab-N-Go owner sexually exploited teen employee

Charge: Grab-N-Go owner sexually exploited teen employee
EVERETT, Wash. -- The owner of a controversial "bikini barista" business was charged on Friday with sexually exploiting a teenage employee.

Prosecutors say 29-year-old Bill Wheeler Jr. Hired a 16-year-old Everett girl to work as a "bikini barista" at his Grab-N-Go coffee stands in the Everett area.

Last month, officers arrested three Grab-N-Go employees, including the 16-year-old, for allegedly violating the city's adult cabaret law.

"Citizens complained that these locations served more than just coffee," Lt. James Duffy of the Criminal Intelligence Unit said after the February arrests.

Duffy said the investigation uncovered what he called "exhibition and exposure which is outside the confines of the law."

Police used surveillance cameras to capture the baristas allegedly giving customers "shows" for money without actually serving any coffee.

Prosecutors say the coffee stands were equipped with surveillance cameras that Wheeler often watched using his cell phone.

During an interview with police, the 16-year-old girl told detectives she believed Wheeler knew that baristas were removing their clothes for customers.

"I don't know how he couldn't have seen it -- he was checking the video after every one of my shifts. He had to have seen it," she said, according to court documents.

The girl also said Wheeler did not pay the baristas an hourly wage or salary and required them to make a certain amount of money for the business each day, court papers show.

She said there would be $80 in the till at the beginning of every shift and Wheeler expected there to be at least $300 in the till by the end of each weekday and $150 by the end of weekend shifts.

If the till was short, the girl told detectives Wheeler expected the baristas to make up the difference using their tips.

This is far from the company's first run-in with the law.

In 2010, five Grab-N-Go baristas were charged with prostitution and violating the city's adult entertainment ordinance following a two-month undercover investigation.

Those women, ages 18 to 24, were accused of groping and other sexual acts, including exposing their breasts and privates and licking whipped cream off of each other in exchange for money.

Despite the company's shaky history with the law, Wheeler insists everything at his coffee stands in on the up-and-up.

"I make it very clear that my business isn't what they may suspect it to be," he said last month. "Regardless of what they heard in the past in the media I have a zero-tolerance-policy for any of this conduct."