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Wednesday, 19 September 2007 00:00

Waynesville PD net 6 arrests in Internet sex sting

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When Crystal Shuler posted an ad on Craig’s List this summer offering a full-service massage in Waynesville, she was flooded with email responses, more than 70 to be exact.

Shuler, a Waynesville police detective, wasn’t actually surfing for action but instead was launching a sting operation on a growing outlet for prostitution. Craig’s List, an on-line classified section for people buying and selling stuff from cars to baby clothes, has seen an explosion of entries under one category in particular — “erotic services.”

Those posting under the section often dance around the topic of sex for cash. It was Shuler’s job to catch men looking for illegal prostitutes without engaging in entrapment.

The flood of respondents interested in the “full service massage” wanted to know what Shuler was charging. Seventy-five dollars, Shuler replied. She waited for the other party to actually broach the subject of sex. Several did.

“They would reply back and ask, ‘Would you also do this, would you also do that?’” Shuler said. Shuler replied, giving them a price for whatever sexual act they were seeking. That part was tricky, since she didn’t really know what a going rate was, and likely low-balled the prices, she said.

The police used a house in Hazelwood as a meeting place for the Internet sex seekers. Shuler told them when and where to show up, and most did, with money in hand. Some drove a long way — from Charlotte or from Tennessee — for whatever sexual act they’d arranged. An undercover female cop met the men at the door, while a surveillance team waited in a back room.

“Once the money exchanged hands, we went ahead and made the arrest,” Shuler said.

The sting didn’t just target men looking for sex. Prostitutes also use Craig’s List to advertise their services. Detectives responded to the ads posing as potential clients. Again, they had the women show up at the home in Hazelwood thinking they were there to offer a service. A male cop greeted them at the front door, paid his fee, and the surveillance team swept in.

Two adult strangers meeting over the Internet and arranging to have sex isn’t illegal unless money is involved. But it is dangerous. Those using Craig’s List to find sex are putting themselves at risk, Shuler said. They don’t know whose house they are showing up at, whether it is someone who might rob them, beat them up or kidnap them.

The female prostitutes showing up to provide their services often had an escort. One, who said she was doing it to help make ends meet, brought her friend with her. One, a professional traveling prostitute was accompanied by her pimp.

In the most appalling case, the detectives stumbled across people looking for sex with minors — men looking for either young boys or young girls. The police nabbed one of these, a man who thought he had arranged to have sex with 12- and 14-year-old girls. Shuler greeted him at the door of the Hazelwood home and told him the two girls were next door, that she would bring them over but he had to pay first. He handed over the money, and the surveillance team closed in.

Unfortunately, the volume of Internet prostitution is so massive it could keep a detective busy 24 hours a day. The Waynesville police hope word of the busts will get around and deter it from happening here.

“We told every one one of them when we released them, ‘Don’t come back to Waynesville. We don’t want this in Waynesville,’” Shuler said.

The undercover Craig’s List sting netted a total of six suspects, charged with prostitution, solicitation of prostitution or participation in the prostitution of a minor.

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