With a few clicks of the computer mouse, he pulled up a page for a local woman advertising her services as an escort. Translation: sex for money. It’s the modern version of the world’s oldest profession. Women who trade sex for money have found their way to solicit clients, on the information superhighway and specifically Craigslist.
On Wednesday, online escorts were center stage for Central Florida’s Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents who worked a sting operation aimed at escorts who charge upward of $200 an hour for their services. As the crackdown continued into the night, five women ages 20-30 were arrested on allegations of prostitution.
MBI was the latest Central Florida law-enforcement endeavor to target prostitutes who market themselves online. A similar sting operation in Polk County led to 34 arrests last weekend. Those suspects included prostitutes and pimps, Polk officials said.
Agent Riggi is a 19-year law-enforcement veteran and supervisor of MBI’s Vice and Organized Crime unit. His years on the job have taught him how to spot a likely prostitution advertisement. He clicked on an ad called “!Sweet as Candy!” posted in the casual-encounters portion of Craigslist. He finds a few short sentences and a picture of a scantily clad woman. The posting, which may look distasteful to many people unaware of the subculture of escorts, pimps and prostitutes, doesn’t immediately appear illegal. “Wanna play today? Come on over!” the listing says. But it’s the next sentence that catches Riggi’s eye. *$erious Gentlemen Only Plea$e*” Although there is no mention of money, the dollar signs used in the last line shows Riggi this isn’t just a girl looking for fun. She’s likely a high-dollar escort, so he logs into his undercover e-mail account and fires off a message. He wants to get her to an Orlando hotel where a pre-arranged bust is already scheduled. But she does not reply.
Central Florida MBI has been looking for prostitutes on the Internet for at least five years, scanning ads in such online sites as Craigslist and backpage.com. The agency schedules several stings per year but will do them spontaneously if hotels or other businesses complain. MBI also monitors massage parlors, some of which advertise on the Internet. But it leaves the streetwalkers who frequent high-traffic areas such as to local law enforcement.
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