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Prostitution, Police Stings And Spitzer

Prostitution is illegal in the U.S. except in certain counties in the state of Nevada. Prostitution laws make it a crime in most states to offer, agree to, or engage in any type of sexual act for compensation. Depending on the state, the stages of a typical prostitution “transaction" can involve charges against the supplier of services (prostitution), the customer paying for the services (solicitation of prostitution), and any middleman involved in the transaction (pimping).

Solicitation means an offer of sexual services by a prostitute. Some states are very specific as to which behavior they prohibit. For example, on the eve of Super Bowl 23, Falcons safety Eugene Robinson drove to Key Biscayne and offered an undercover officer $40 for oral sex. Under Florida law, he is guilty of an attempt “to purchase the services of any person engaged in prostitution." Fla Stat. 796.07(2)(i).

In California, it is very broad and applies to both to prostitutes and their clients. Solicitation is a misdemeanor with a maximum jail time of 1 year in addition to fines and penalties. It requires 3 things: (1) specific intent to engage in the act of prostitution (2) person must “manifest an acceptance of an offer or solicitation to so engage" (3) act “in furtherance of the act of prostitution." Cal. Penal Code 647 (b)

The last requirement is heavily litigated. For example, merely getting into a car before an offer is made is not an act in furtherance, but telling a driver to drive to a dark place is. A masseuse who quotes prices for sex acts during a massage, but leaves on her clothes and does not perform any acts has not acted in furtherance of prostitution.

In 1993, an undercover Beverly Hills police officer posing as a wealthy Japanese businessman contacted Heidi Fleiss. He offered to pay $6,000 so that Fleiss would send four women to meet him and a friend at a hotel. Fleiss sent to the women to the Beverly Hills Hilton to meet the men. The undercover agents posed as clients and asked for sex.

Once the women agreed, other agents stormed in from the adjacent room and arrested the women. Fleiss was charged, among other things, 5 counts of pandering. Her defense team raised the issue of entrapment and the jurors voted to convict on 3 rather than 5 counts of pandering and she was sentenced to 3 years prison and $1,500 of fines.

What is pandering? In California, it is a felony punishable by 3, 4 or 6 years in state prison. The most basic definition is “procuring another person for the purpose of prostitution. Many ask what is the difference between pandering versus pimping? Someone who arranges a meeting between a prostitute and a “john" and who takes a cut of the prostitute’s revenue can be charged with both pimping and pandering. A person who makes money generated by prostitution is a pimp and any person who works to find clients for prostitutes is illegally pimping. So is there a difference, not really.

Police Stings:

Rented furniture and hidden cameras were among the props Seattle police vice detectives used to arrest 104 men who showed up a downtown condo to pay for sex. All responded to postings in the “erotic services" category on craigslist. Instead of cruising the streets for prostitutes, these men responded to online and newspaper ads looking for sex. Police discovered a subculture where men call themselves “hobbyists" and refer to the women as “providers." When a man arrived at the condo, the woman would engage in a conversation, collect her fee and once money had changed hands, an arrest occurred. Arrestees have included “bank presidents, business owners and doctors."

The Los Angeles Police Department vice squad also have also pursued internet undercover work—websites and craigslist. As one former Hollywood madam who served 22 months when her operation was busted states, “There is no need for a madam or a brothel today." The belief that the bulk of the prostitution industry is now conducted on the internet is also confirmed by the LA vice team. In fact, Captain Jody Wakefield puts it, “I kind of think craigslist as the pimp."

Eliot Spitzer scandal

It is still up for debate whether Spitzer will be criminally charged. Investigators appear to be split on whether to charge the former governor with any substantive crimes that might lead to jail time in connection with his involvement in a prostitution ring. Among the crimes he could be charged of are money laundering, fraudulent use of public or private funds, violation of the Mann Act – which prohibits women travel over state lines for prostitution and structuring (breaking transactions into smaller amounts to avoid currency rules). It was his bank that reported him to the IRS based on federal regulations requiring the reporting of transfers of $10,000 or more.

Even if Spitzer is never criminally convicted, he could still lose his law license. Disbarment is automatic for any lawyer convicted of a felony in New York, but soliciting a prostitute is only a misdemeanor. However, the disciplinary committee can look at the underlying conduct and determine if disciplinary action shall be required. My personal belief is that his defense team is working in cutting a deal with the prosecutors and because of his resignation, no felony charge or even disbarment will occur.

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