Web molds new 'call girls'

Elaine Allegrini

The world's oldest profession has gone high tech.?

“Welcome to the 21st century,” said Raynham Police Chief Louis Pacheco, a member of the High Tech Crime Consortium's executive board.?

“When prostitutes advertised in the 1960s, it was by word of mouth or maybe something in the personal ads,” Pacheco said. “Now, you can text message, e-mail, instant message, go on bulletin boards like Craigslist.”??

Four women who advertise under Craiglist's “erotic services” and three accomplices were arrested Wednesday night in a sting conducted by the West East Bridgewater Task Force, a coalition of police departments whose primary work centers on illegal drug activity, police said.??

It was a drug investigation that led them to the alleged prostitution which Detective Sgt. Victor Flaherty of West Bridgewater said goes hand-in-hand with illegal drug activity. Given the enormity of the find, it was more than the tri-town task force could handle.??

“This is feeding and paying for their drug habits and other unlawful acts,” Flaherty said. “They're a little more sophisticated than the street walker. It's the age.”??

The Internet may have taken prostitution off the streets and out of the public's eye in surrounding towns, but Brockton police Lt. John Crowley, chief of detectives, said the number of hookers has increased in city streets in recent weeks. There has been at least one arrest related to Internet prostitution in the city.??

Unlike those arrested in West Bridgewater last week, who charged $225 to $250 for “full service” and went to meet the client in a residential setting or “outcalls,” the woman arrested in Brockton in May offered “an unwrapped lollipop” for $80, then agreed to take $75 from an undercover cop. She was only available for “car dates.”

They often market the services on the Internet under the cover of companionship or other legal activities, authorities say.??

The Federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 provides immunity from liability for Internet services like Craigslist, a U.S. District Court judge in Chicago ruled recently.??

The crime comes with the act itself, not the technology, Pacheco said.??“You've got an information gap,” he said. “Our criminal code is completely obsolete to deal with electronic crimes.”

While technology offers new avenues for crime, law enforcement has lagged behind, unable to apply for warrants and do other time-consuming and routine tasks via the Internet, according to Pacheco.??

Cyberspace has also erased the lines between jurisdictions, but law enforcement is still based on geographical boundaries, he said.??

“The whole law enforcement system is antiquated,” he said. “Most kids have modern technology on their belts while the cops still drive around with radios designed for the 20th century.”??

While enforcement may have not kept up with technology, Pacheco said police are increasingly using the Internet in investigations and Craigslist is a primary tool.?

“We use Craigslist to track stolen property, drug activity,” he said.??

A major sex sting last year was also centered on Internet activity.?

Dubbed “Operation Trenchcoat,” the sting involved more than 50 law enforcement agents and netted 11 men, including a sitting Plymouth selectman. The men were accused of approaching underage girls online and attempting to lure them into sexual encounters. The online chats, however, were really with undercover agents.??

Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said the number of men involved was disturbing, but not surprising.?

“It just goes to show how widespread this is,” Cruz said at the time.??

That was the same reaction investigators had to last week's prostitution sting.??

They targeted advertisers listed under “erotic services” who work within the South Shore area. Armed with 32 ads, they began calling about 4 p.m. Thursday and by 9 p.m. had seven people in custody, including four women charged with prostitution and three with profiting from prostitution.??

The operation was halted only because police could not handle more arrests, but the sting was exposed by 10 p.m. in a Craigslist posting.??

Technology may be offering a double-edged sword, a tool for investigations and a stonewall for enforcement, but Brockton's Crowley said, “We may have to search a little harder, but if it's happening, we'll eventually find it.”

Elaine Allegrini is a staff writer for the Enterprise in Brockton, Mass.