GASTONIA, N.C. -- Prominent Gastonia businessman Thomas Ray Cloninger, the brother of Gaston County's sheriff, has been accused of soliciting a prostitute for oral sex -- the second businessman charged this week in connection with a now defunct call-girl ring called HushHush.
Cloninger, 55, is accused of paying $1,000 for the sex , according to court documents. He is charged with soliciting a crime against nature on Sept. 29, 2007.
An affidavit said Cloninger contacted the owner of the HushHush escort service and asked to see a known prostitute. Cloninger met with the prostitute at a hotel, solicited her for oral sex and paid the agency fee, the affidavit alleges.
Cloninger is a vice president with Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia, one of the nation's largest independent fabric stores.
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Cloninger declined to comment.
"My brother has always been a law abiding citizen," Sheriff Alan Cloninger told the Observer on Friday. "He's made a mistake. The justice system will deal with him. And he'll pay his debt to society and continue with his life.
"I'm proud of my brother. I love my brother. And I stand beside my brother."
Charlotte businessman Skipper Beck, who owns one of North Carolina's leading Mercedes-Benz dealerships, also faces charges in connection with the prostitution ring.
Belk, 48, is charged with soliciting for prostitution. He's accused of paying $400 in exchange for sex, according to court documents.
Sallie Saxon, who ran the Internet-based prostitution ring from her southeast Charlotte home, attracted some of the city's civic and business elite and made some $3 million over seven years.