"Spitzergate" is shedding the light on internet escorts. This article was published in the Miami Herald. " The Internet has made hiring a prostitute almost as easy as buying a book from Amazon." Yup, just ask Eliot.
Posted on Wed, Mar. 12, 2008
Internet escort sites are rarely policed
BY JAY WEAVER, TODD WRIGHT AND EVAN S. BENN
In her online ad, Kelly describes herself as a 25-year-old articulate Brazilian swimsuit model.
For a $400 ''donation,'' the petite, brown-eyed blond will give clients a ''fantastic, unrushed session'' for an hour at a Miami Beach hotel.
Code words aside, Kelly is a prostitute, but she's no streetwalker. She's one of hundreds of South Florida women and their handlers who use the Web to sell sex.
In light of the bombshell federal wiretap case that ensnared New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer -- and referenced Miami escorts -- a glimpse into South Florida's lucrative online escort industry reveals it is thriving and operates without much enforcement.
''We don't actively investigate escort services,'' Broward Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Alesia Russell said. ``We wouldn't know unless there was a tip generated. Then we would check.''
The Internet has made hiring a prostitute almost as easy as buying a book from Amazon.
A check Tuesday of cityvibe.com and eros.com -- sites where escorts and their companies post ads -- showed 804 listings for female prostitutes in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. One site advertising male escorts listed 80 South Florida providers on Tuesday.
And that's only three websites -- all types of escorts also place not-so-discreet ads in local magazines, newspapers and elsewhere on the Internet.
Like Kelly, whose ad was found Tuesday on Eros, most online escorts list their measurements, the things they will not do (no couples or half-hour sessions with Kelly), and often their rates (usually between $300 and $600 an hour), photographs and contact information. Attempts to contact Kelly for this article were unsuccessful.
The last major South Florida prostitution takedown was in August 2002, when the FBI dismantled a nationwide ring of high-class brothels called The Circuit, which included a brothel in Miami.
Judy Y. Krueger, 64, and her paramour, Eli H. Tish, 75, were accused of running the Miami branch of The Circuit out of two $1,600-a-month suites at the Four Ambassadors Hotel downtown. The pair -- among 13 indicted on racketeering charges -- pleaded guilty and served less than two years in prison.
Former U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez, whose office prosecuted the case, said The Circuit was similar to New York's Emperors Club VIP, the escort company at the center of a federal wiretap investigation. The sting made international headlines this week when Spitzer was identified as a john.
Both The Circuit and Emperors Club employed high-priced prostitutes catering to well-heeled clients. Emperors Club, which also operated in Miami, charged upward of $5,500 an hour.
But Jimenez said escort-agency busts are ''relatively rare'' in federal law enforcement because the government's post-9/11 focus is preventing terrorism.
''I'm sure it fits in some FBI priority list somewhere, but I can assure you it's not near the top,'' he said.
Federal agencies often target Internet escort services only if the operator is a big criminal figure or involved in crimes like racketeering or money laundering, Jimenez said.
Dennis Hof, owner of the Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel in Nevada, agreed about what it takes for escorts to pique the interest of law enforcement.
''When the FBI gets interested in an escort agency, it is because of money laundering, not prostitution,'' Hof said.
On a local level, authorities say it's easier to pick up a few hookers every night along Federal Highway than to take down a booming Internet sex company.
''We haven't seen any big cases of this ilk in a while,'' Broward state attorney's office spokesman Ron Ishoy said.
Fort Lauderdale police say they use ''proactive enforcement'' -- like paying close attention to local ads -- to keep escort services from setting up shop in Broward's largest city.
''It's widely known in the escort arena that you don't come to Fort Lauderdale,'' Sgt. Frank Sousa said, without giving away his investigators' enforcement secrets. ``Selling your body is illegal.''
Today's pricey click-to-find call girls are a far cry from the black-book madams of years past, like Kathy Willets and Tammy McGovern.
Willets operated a one-woman sex shop out of her Tamarac home that netted about $2,000 a week, $150 at a time. Some days, Willets would see as many as eight men a day for sex.
Willets went to prison for a few years after she and her husband pleaded guilty to 35 prostitution-related charges in 1991. She had argued unsuccessfully that the antidepressant Prozac turned her into a nymphomaniac.
McGovern, then known as the ''Hollywood Madam,'' was a former nude dancer who was charged in 1989 with running an international brothel from her Hollywood Hills home.
After police raided her home, McGovern accused them of ripping pages out of her four address books to protect prominent citizens and fellow officers. The case dragged on for months until two policemen were briefly suspended without pay.
Miami Herald staff writers Roberto Santiago and David Ovalle contributed to this report.
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