This story appeared first in the Sunday edition of the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper.

“You did the unthinkable,” she told him. “You betrayed me and are having illegal sex.”

A Madison nurse used those words recently in explaining why she booted her husband of 27 years out of their Southeast Side house and is seeking a divorce after learning the 53-year-old was paying for sex with two prostitutes about the same age as the couple’s daughters.

In telling her story to the State Journal, she is providing the first public allegations of prostitution occurring at Rising Sun since an October 2010 police raid there launched an investigation.

Madison Police have an open, ongoing investigation against Charles Prindiville, owner of Rising Sun, 117 W. Main St., centered on operating a house of prostitution and tax fraud.

The Madison nurse, whose divorce from her husband is pending in Dane County Circuit Court, discovered he paid for sex with Rising Sun employees as recently as last November and stretching back at least six months — a period of time after the October 2010 raid by police. She came forward with details of her divorce out of a desire to show the often unseen victims of prostitution: families like hers that are destroyed by it.

Research by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation suggests the family’s situation is surprisingly common. A 2008 alliance report that included interviews with 113 Chicago-area men who paid for sex found 62 percent of them were in a relationship with a wife or girlfriend. Three-quarters of the men said going to prostitutes harms a marriage, whether or not the wife is aware of it. The results defy a stereotype of men who go to prostitutes as lonely characters on the fringe of society.

“They tend to be very much mainstream, middle to upper class, with disposable income,” said Lynne Johnson, advocacy director for the group.

Back rubs — nothing more

Police declined to comment on the woman’s story, citing the active investigation. Prindiville has denied prostitution happens at his longstanding business, saying it is a bathhouse where men go to have their backs rubbed — and nothing more.

The Madison nurse, whom the State Journal agreed not to name to protect her family, first learned of her husband’s involvement with Rising Sun from her daughters.

Around Christmas, they helped him navigate his cellphone and, to their surprise, found text messages from November between their father and a woman named Kayla. A second woman, Kendra, was referenced. He asked for a meeting of the three “for a little fun for all of us at your place,” according to the message shared with the State Journal by one of the man’s daughters, who corroborated her mother’s version of events.

Confronted in January by his wife about the texts, the man admitted making trips to Rising Sun for sex with the women, paid in cash.

“My money pays the bills, his money goes to pleasure,” his wife said. Her husband declined to respond to State Journal requests for comment.

‘Hello? Is it politics?’

Beyond her despair over a lost marriage, the woman has questions about Rising Sun, which has remained open for nearly four decades. Its West Main Street location is sandwiched among Madison Police headquarters, City Hall, the Dane County courthouse and the state Capitol.

“I asked my lawyer, ‘Why?’ I mean, the police station’s not that far away,” she said. “Hello? Is it politics?”

Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents the area, said the answer likely lies more in other factors, noting that despite the alleged criminal nature of what happens there, Rising Sun goes mostly unnoticed to neighbors and draws very few complaints. Partly it’s because it sits on the second floor on a block full of bars, which typically attract bigger crowds and more urgent problems, including fights, noise and public drunkenness.

He said there were periodic police investigations at Rising Sun in his 17 years representing the district but none bore enough fruit to shut it down.

Mayor Paul Soglin did not respond to a request for comment. However, during an earlier stint as mayor in 1993, Soglin was quoted in a State Journal story about massage parlors including Rising Sun: “The question is how do you close them down? You say you know there has to be something there, but the difficulty is in making the case.”

Once-thriving scene

In Madison, Rising Sun is one of the last remnants of the once-thriving massage parlor scene, which appears to have started in the 1970s and once numbered in the dozens.

The Downtown parlors drew heavy scrutiny during the 1980 murder trial of Barbara Hoffman, a former UW-Madison student and prostitute — she worked part time at Rising Sun — who was charged with poisoning two former customers at another Downtown massage parlor, causing their deaths. She was convicted in one of the murders and remains in state prison today.

Since the October 2010 raid, Madison police have executed other search warrants related to their investigation, confiscating tax records, pay stubs, appointment books and other materials. No charges have been filed. All search warrants have been sealed by Dane County judges.

A planned nuisance action against the business, filed by Madison Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy last January, was put on hold so the criminal investigation could proceed, she said.

Family life appeared normal

The Madison nurse stressed that her family’s life was always quite normal, at least on the surface.

She and her husband got married in Madison in 1984 and spent their first night as a married couple at Inn on the Park, which sits across the street from Rising Sun. They built a stable life together, raising a family in a comfortable house, going to Mass regularly and supporting their daughters as they grew up, went to college and got jobs.

She thinks her husband’s trysts affected her health. He refused to have sex with her for about the past two years, citing impotence. After being confronted about his visits to prostitutes, he admitted there were other reasons he’d lost interest in her.

Last year, the woman, 53, came down with a crippling case of mononucleosis, which caused her to miss work. She knew then it was highly unusual for a woman her age to get mono. Now she believes it was likely passed to her by her husband, who was spending his spare time around prostitutes in their 20s and 30s.

When confronted by his daughters and wife about the allegations in January, the man sat mostly quiet in their family room. When they were done talking, they asked that he sit there and not interfere.

They went upstairs, packed his clothes and toiletries in black garbage bags, handed them to him and asked him to leave. He has not lived at the house since. The woman’s daughters thanked her for standing up for herself.

“They told me he didn’t deserve to be living in the same building as I was,” she said.

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