Polk County busts Craigslist prostitution ring

By JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA | The Tampa Tribune
and NATALIE SHEPHERD | News Channel 8
Published: September 14, 2009
Updated: 09/14/2009 10:21 pm

They came from Central and South Florida; authorities say they were trying to earn money in the world’s oldest profession.

One woman was dropped off by her 19-year-old daughter and her husband of 20 years. At least two were pregnant.

One prostitute came from a previous prostitution job, took a shower and was setting an appointment for her next job in Lake County, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

One “high-dollar” prostitute flew in from California and another from Wisconsin, investigators say.

What they found was Operation Hot Date, a three-day sting set up by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office arrested what investigators say were 28 prostitutes and four male pimps in the operation that started Thursday and ended Saturday.

Undercover detectives contacted the women who had posted $10 advertisements on Craigslist. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the San Francisco-based online classified company bears some responsibility.

“They provide the infrastructure for prostitutes to operate,” Judd said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “Craigslist is one-stop shopping for all of your prostitution needs.”

Detectives had e-mail and telephone contacts with the women and negotiated sex acts ranging from $125 to $800.

The people arrested came from Tampa, Riverview, Clearwater, West Palm Beach, Lakeland and Orlando.

At the news conference, Judd said Craigslist helped facilitate prostitution, even after it has been warned in the past on how its Web site can be used for the illegal activity.

“They’ve been asked; they’ve been encouraged,” Judd said. “And now I’m promising them they will be charged criminally by our office and we will seek prosecution if they continue to violate the laws of the state of Florida.

“They may have perpetuated enough criminal conduct that they are a criminal defendant in waiting,” Judd said.

The company late Monday released a statement defending itself.

“Adult service ads on craigslist are dwarfed in volume, and tame in content, compared to other central Florida advertising venues that have not adopted craigslist’s strict review standards,” the company said in an e-mailed statement to the Tribune. “It would be surprising if the Sheriff has chosen to ignore the larger and much more explicit adult service advertising venues operating throughout his jurisdiction.”

Judd also warned the men who used the services of the prostitutes.

Detectives have the contact books and cell phones of the prostitutes they arrested, and they’ll be contacting former customers, Judd said.

“And for those of you who are married, it will be certainly a surprise for your wife,” Judd said.

Reporter José Patiño Girona can be reached at (813) 259-7659.

Link to original at Tampa Bay Online

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