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TMCNet:  Orlando Weekly trio charged with aiding prostitution

[October 19, 2007]

Orlando Weekly trio charged with aiding prostitution

(Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Oct. 19--Law enforcement-officials this afternoon arrested three Orlando Weekly managers on charges of aiding and abetting prostitution.

Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents arrested director of classified advertising Jarrell B. Martin, 43; line account executive Katherine Casey Miller, 27; and display account executive Christopher M. Whiting, 37; while they were working at a job fair sponsored by the Weekly at the downtown Marriott Hotel.

The Weekly's downtown offices also were served notice on racketeering charges for contributing to the prostitution industry. Officials said that the newspaper's advertising executives also helped escort services design ads that would cloak them from the eyes of law-enforcement officers.

Agents said the arrests culminated a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Weekly Shame."

In the last five years, MBI officials said Orlando Weekly has earned about $2.3 million in revenue thanks to the prostitution ads.

"The prostitution problem has been growing here in recent years because Orlando Weekly is providing space for these kinds of criminal enterprises," MBI director Bill Lutz said. "We did send them letters and that worked at the time, but this time, they told us to go pound sand."

As part of Operation Weekly Shame, two female agents went undercover and presented themselves as prostitutes to three of the Weekly's account executives, Lutz said. They made it clear that their ads were for promoting their prostitution businesses, he said.

Cmdr. Paul Zambouros, who heads the MBI's vice unit, sent a letter in June to Don Farley, publisher of Times-Shamrock Communications Alternative Newsweekly Group -- which publishes the Orlando Weekly -- asking that the Adult Services and Certified Massage sections be eliminated from the newspaper.

Farley declined, he said. Farley did not respond today to a Sentinel request for comment.

"An estimate of the revenue that the Orlando Weekly has gained in the last five years from the Adult Services Section is approximately $900,000 and from the Certified Massage Section is $1,470,000," Zambouros' letter read.

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office has not released testimony with details, but Lutz said at least one the undercover MBI agents posed as a madame employing six prostitutes in the escort industry.

At the time of the arrest, several employees lingered in the downtown Marriott as the Weekly's job fair was wrapping up in a ballroom.

Workers said they had been told not to discuss the matter. At least one executive from the newspaper avoided reporters before hotel security asked media to leave the private building.

Attorney Steve Mason, who represents the Orlando Weekly and Orlando-area adult entertainment businesses, said he tried contacting the MBI today about the arrests but has not heard back from law-enforcement officials at the agency.

"I wanted to let them know that if there were any other outstanding warrants for Orlando Weekly personnel, please let me know," Mason said in a phone interview. "I would streamline the process and I would make every effort to have those people surrender themselves."

Daniel Aaronson, a longtime Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer and First Amendment specialist, called today's arrests and police actions "incredibly repugnant." Aaronson said the Weekly did nothing wrong if they simply took and ran adult-oriented advertisements.

"The papers aren't doing anything illegal. They're taking ads. If an ad uses suggestive language, the stopping of these ads threatens the First Amendment," said Aaronson, who has represented adult entertainment clubs, bookstores, swinger clubs and even serial killer Danny Rolling on his right to publish accounts of his crimes.

Aaronson cautioned that only one side of the story has been released in the case.

MBI officials, however, said undercover officers posing as "sellers of prostitution" made it clear to Weekly management and advertising employees that they involved in the illicit business.

If those employees "were asked to change the words of an ad to be part of the solicitation of prostitution, then there are less First Amendment protections," Aaronson said.

MBI's Lutz said the case had nothing to do with the First Amendment.

"This is about Weekly employees who absolutely know they're dealing with prostitutes and selling ads to prostitutes and making money from selling ads to prostitutes," Lutz said.

In the past, the Orlando Weekly has criticized MBI's tactics.

"The MBI has a well-earned reputation for ruthlessness when it comes to driving adult businesses out of Central Florida," a 2003 Weekly news story stated. "Its agents and prosecutors have harassed and intimidated witnesses, lied about investigations, trumped up charges against old ladies and spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to coax a handful of people into committing petty crimes."

A 1996 MBI investigation called "Operation Do the Right Thing" focused on the problem of prostitution-related advertising and disclosed that Orlando Weekly representatives were knowingly selling advertisements for prostitution services.

Zambouros said the Weekly and other publications, including Orlando Sentinel, and the Sprint and BellSouth yellow pages agreed to eliminate escort ads from their publications in 1997. Lutz said more than 100 escort services disappeared after that decision.

At that time, the Weekly did not employ the three employees arrested today.

"During the last several years, however, it has been noted by law enforcement officers, that the Orlando Weekly had again significantly increased the prostitution related advertising published in their weekly editions," according to the MBI's affidavit report on Operation Weekly Shame. "

Accordingly, since 2003, law enforcement officers have made eighty 80 arrests for prostitution connected to advertisements in the Orlando Weekly."

Orlando Sentinel spokeswoman Ashley Allen said the newspaper has had strict advertising standards in place for decades and would never knowingly accept advertising which violates any municipal, state or federal law or is indecent, salacious, suggestive or offensive.

"The Orlando Sentinel does not accept advertisements for escorts or escort services," Allen said. "With respect to massage-related advertising, any ad placed by an individual or business that offers massage services must present to the Sentinel a copy of its license from the State of Florida before an advertisement will publish."

The sudden and unusual round of arrests raises questions whether MBI will take on internationally known Craigslist networking site. MBI recently wrote a letter to the CEO of Craigslist requesting the Internet site remove all of its prostitution ads dealing with Orlando. Representatives at Craigslist have not answered law-enforcement official's letters.

Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents in March arrested Li Ping Ding on 16 counts of deriving support and proceeds of prostitution, two counts of solicitation to commit prostitution, and one count each of maintaining a place for prostitution and racketeering.

Ding advertised several massage parlors, including Asian Relaxation, Soothing Asian Massage and Long Quan, in the Orlando Weekly. Long Quan, which operated in Altamonte Springs, was the site of prostitution-related arrests by police in 2005 and 2006.

Authorities in 2006 shut down Girls Next Door, an escort service that advertised in phone directories and the Orlando Weekly newspaper. The escort service had been in operation since 2002. Investigators seized cash and properties worth at least $500,000 from the couple who ran the business out of their Deltona home.

Sarah Langbein and Jim Leusner of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.t.

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