Craigslist Sting

By Staff Report    
Monday, 27 November 2006
Rented furnishings and hidden cameras were among the props Seattle police vice detectives used to arrest 104 men who showed up at a ritzy downtown condo recently expecting to pay for sex according to the Seattle Times.

Nearly three-fourths of the men who were arrested on suspicion of patronizing a prostitute responded to postings in the "erotic services" category on craigslist, the free online community where people can search for apartments, jobs, used cars, friends and dates.  The rest answered escort ads found in the back pages of local free tabloids, similar to the "Urban Tulsa" publication.

"We wanted to prove craigslist was in fact a vehicle for promoting prostitution," said Lt. Eric Sano, commander of the Seattle Police Department’s vice unit.  The vice unit launched its elaborate investigation after receiving numerous community complaints about prostitutes advertising on craigslist, Sano said.

Undercover detectives arranged for escorts to meet them in a downtown hotel room on Oct. 19, Sano said. Detectives arrested seven women and a 16-year-old girl who made clear they expected payment for their sexual services, he said.

Vice detectives then turned their attention to men who, instead of cruising the streets for prostitutes, respond to online ads looking for sex, he said. To make their ads believable, Sano said, female detectives were photographed in flirty poses, phone lines were established and appointments were set up.

Police discovered "a complete subculture" where men call themselves "hobbyists" and refer to the women they pay for sex as "providers" and even several online "review boards" where men rate their experiences and describe a woman’s looks and the sex acts she’s willing to perform.

Craig Newmark, who founded craigslist in San Francisco in 1995, said he has heard that "prostitution is a significant problem" on the Web site and noted that craigslist has built a "top-notch" reputation for responding to complaints of illegal activity.

Craigslist, which is now available in some 300 cities worldwide, doesn’t monitor what people post.

"We are a democracy … and we find we can trust our community," he said. "I don’t know what the situation is like in Seattle, but we would prefer that [police] go after violent criminals or crooked congressmen."

When a man arrived at the sting site, he was greeted at the door and ushered inside, Sano said. As other detectives hid in a bedroom watching live footage from hidden cameras, the female detective, posing as "a provider," would engage in a conversation about sex and collect her fee, he said.

Once money had changed hands, other officers would then walk out and arrest the man.

All but five of the men were interviewed, cited and released the Seattle Times reported.  One man, a registered sex offender, was booked into the King County Jail for violating conditions of his release; three others were booked on drug violations and another on a weapons charge.

Police said the arrestees have included "bank presidents, state employees, business owners, construction workers, physicians and surgeons."
Last Updated ( Monday, 27 November 2006 )