Sex Sting Nets 13 Arrests

floridatoday.com

March 21, 2008

 

 

| VIDEO

13 nabbed in area hotel stings

BY JEFF SCHWEERS
FLORIDA TODAY

Three months ago, an unusual pair of arrests found their way onto the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office daily arrest report.Two women, arrested late at night at the Radisson in the beachside area of Melbourne on State Road A1A, were charged with city code violations. The codes govern the escort services in the city, and violations can be prosecuted as misdemeanors.

Those arrests represented just the tip of a three-month investigation into illegal escort service activities that began with complaints from local motel and hotel operators. None of the hotels used in the sting operations were origins of the complaints.

The investigation has led to the arrests of seven escort service workers dispatched by three companies and six women who advertised their services independently on Craigslist.org. The latest arrests were on Tuesday.

The women range in age from 19 to 46.

Seven of the women were charged with misdemeanor prostitution. They are N, 31 [charges dropped]; S, 23; L, 20; L, 19; A, 20; L, 29; and S, 26.

A handful only faced charges of city code violations. Some also received felony drug charges.

The youngest, accepted a plea agreement to spend 19 days at the jail farm and serve six months of probation. She had faced charges of prostitution, possession of marijuana and violation of probation.

Others posted bail, pleaded not guilty and are at various stages in the court system.

Police are continuing to investigate possible violations by the escort services themselves, said Sgt. Jeff Van Gilder, supervisor of the narcotics and vice unit.

“There is clearly a significant amount of prostitution related to escort service,” Van Gilder said.

Dispatching women

Melbourne has a strict code regulating escort services to prevent prostitution, he said. Any company that dispatches women into the city must get licensed with the city and notify the chief of police that they’re doing business. None of the escort services that advertise locally are registered to do business in Melbourne, he said.

“Look up ‘escort services’ in the Yellow Pages,” he said. “You’ll see all the ones we busted right there.”

Escort service operators know this, Van Gilder said. One escort service employee was caught on audiotape saying she wouldn’t send her “girls” into Melbourne because of that city’s strict regulations.

The investigation began in January after several hotels within city limits complained that escorts were having illegal sex with clients, he said. The police department set up an undercover officer at the Radisson on State Road A1A. He made five arrests in one night.

One escort, N [charges dropped-swop-lv editor’s note], was charged with prostitution, possession of oxycodone and alprazolam and violation of municipal codes regulating escort services. Four other escorts arrested that night were charged with misdemeanors under the city code. Those charges included failing to notify the hotel desk clerk upon arrival, soliciting their customers to take off their clothes, exposing themselves to the customer, failing to meet in a public place and escorting without a contract.

One, B, 28, also was charged with possession of cocaine and paraphernalia.

Steve Casanova, a Melbourne lawyer who represents S, 37, one of the women arrested on code violations only, questioned the undercover officers’ methods.

“It’s almost entrapment the way police officers are doing these arrests,” Casanova said. “The officers are enticing these women to do something they don’t normally do.”

If police had stronger evidence, they would have charged his client with prostitution, Casanova said.

“There was no sex at all, no exchange of money,” Casanova said. “If you’re a legit escort, you’re not going straight to someone’s hotel room.”

Posting on Craigslist

Those first arrests in January led police to the Internet connection and another sting operation, Van Gilder said.

“They will work out of an escort service and post independent services on Craigslist,” he said.

Escorts told police they freelance on Craigslist because they can make more money on their own than working for the escort services, which take a huge cut of their fees, he said.

Melbourne police set up an undercover operation Feb. 22 at the Hilton Melbourne Rialto Place near Melbourne International Airport. That sting resulted in five more arrests. Four women were contacted through Craigslist and charged with prostitution. Some also were charged with drug possession and violation of probation.

A fifth, J, 35, was contacted through an escort service and charged with municipal code violations. She said she resented being lumped in with the other women.

“I went somewhere to meet someone,” said B, who at the time worked for Nikki’s, an escort service licensed by the city of Palm Bay. “I never offered to remove my clothing.”

The client asked her to take off her clothes, she said, but she refused.

“I don’t feel guilty about anything I did,” she said.

Contact Schweers at 242-3668 or jschweers@floridatoday.com.

 

 

http://floridatoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080321/NEWS01/803210344/1086

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