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By 1am, a dozen men have been arrested, enough to fill the jail van twice. Sergeant Neff says if the team had had more officers, it could have nabbed even more johns. Then again, if these johns had had the means, ability, and foresight to troll for sex on the Internet rather than the street, the cops might not have busted any of them. Many of the working women busted on the street seem to have little choice but to be there.

She blurts out a quick account of her life: She turned her first trick at She carries two cell phones to manage her dates. At 15 she convinced a friend to come with her to score a trick with a rich guy. Two blocks later: Mission accomplished. Daddy Cool, from behind the glass at the King County Jail, says that the world he came up in is changing: Off the street, an explosion of highly visible sex-for-hire advertising gives the impression that society has made its peace with prostitution; that while laws against practicing and promoting it still sit on the books, a tolerance policy prevails.

A common assumption is that escorts are hired to accompany visiting businessmen to banquets. Some prostitutes escape the patrols by working at massage parlors, but even they offer little protection from arrest. Hayden wears a work shirt, sports a ponytail, and has slipped a lump of tobacco under his lip; he could be a regular guy knocking off from work in the middle of the day.

Seven of his fellow officers park their unmarked cars, positioned so they can watch him enter. They frisk her, search her belongings, then lead her, handcuffed, to a patrol car. Another woman tries to hide behind the door; she too is led out in handcuffs. Both women have soft, slightly pudgy bodies, highlights in their shoulder-length hair, and wary, shocked expressions. They say nothing.

Prostitution, out of the shadows

He complains wryly that one of the knots in his back feels a bit better, but now lotion is sticking to his shirt. In the kitchenette cabinets they find paperback novels, takeout menus, and coffee mugs. In the drawers they find receipt books and an envelope stuffed with cash. The bathroom trash can yields empty cigarette packs, frozen dinner packages—and a used condom, which they photograph. Soft music is still playing, a strong odor of air freshener wafts through, and a courtroom show jabbers at low volume on the little TV in the waiting area.

And that is a main reason the sheriffs carry out these busts: Prostitution operations are often bases for other illegal cash-only activities, such as money laundering and human trafficking.

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The two women arrested at the massage parlor will be released shortly, to await hearings on charges of prostitution and conspiracy and probation violations. One of them has 45 prior convictions for prostitution. American Beauties drew a small part of its business through the Internet.

Accompanying the ads are photographs, sometimes taken by the women themselves, sometimes lifted from other Web sites caveat emptor. The women appear in inviting or starkly revealing poses, atop living room sofas and motel bedspreads. The text is brief and the terms of exchange are couched in transparent euphemisms: From a law enforcement perspective, that could be a good thing. A lot of those guys using the Web were the same ones driving around. Prostitution has entered a new online era—call it Sex Web 2.

Ted guards his anonymity closely: He communicated strictly via phone and e-mail, and only after checking bona fides with my editor. But on TRB , providers post as well. The male customers and women workers share jokes, sports opinions, and even personal problems. They invite members to karaoke outings, birthday parties, and baseball games. I love TRB.

Thanks so much for making my life full and complete. He made sure to check in right away with his friends, male and female: Take care everyone. Ten years ago, recalls Tahoe Ted, before the trade took to the Internet, wariness prevailed on both sides of the transaction; providers and customers alike routinely took huge risks.

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Skin Trade 2.0

For users, arranging sexual encounters online has eased many of those worries. A message board like TRB , where everyone seems to know everyone else, also makes it possible to screen references and check reputations. Customers can check out rates, photos, and reviews before setting up an encounter. He reports TRB is still growing, with over 16, registered members and 1.

Some are law enforcement officers who want to stay in the loop. At least one was a pimp: Daddy Cool reports he used TRB to keep up with trends of the trade.


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High-priced escorts may be "witty, charming, sexy," and usually have Web sites touting their refined manners, sophisticated literary interests and advanced degrees. By contrast, many other Web sites for prostitution patrons, such as BigDoggie. It also allows the customers and the providers to be more selective. TRB users tend to scorn the street scene; the idea of selecting a partner off the street strikes them as dangerous and distasteful.

The provider is expected to be attentive, caring, and warm. She spends time, she listens, she even kisses. Most likely she has her own Web site with an obligatory warning directing underage surfers to stay away. All this is very different from the interaction sought by street sex customers. But they still use the Internet to share their experiences.

Busted: How police brought down a tech-savvy prostitution network in Bellevue

On the bigger sex boards, mongers post explicit snapshots and recount their experiences with streetwalkers. No names, no identity. Just brief and meaningless affairs. But it requires the patience and the deliberation of a spy. Some johns lament their addictions to paid sex and the risk of ruin that accompanies it. Or they bemoan the wham-bam-thank-you-sir brusqueness of the women engaged via Craigslist: Like any subculture, this world has its own argot. A review might read: Ted deletes posts that delve into fetishism or homosexuality, though he tolerates discussions of threesomes that include two women.

To avoid antagonizing law enforcement he forbids posts that might warn of pending busts or otherwise obstruct justice. He estimates that half the men who pay for sex are married and another 10 percent are in outwardly monogamous live-in relationships. Some are devoted to their partners but still seek to sexually experience as many women as they can. Some are just lonely. She agreed to meet at a French bistro in San Francisco, where she sometimes does business; her Seattle time is overbooked. The website also accepted free advertisements from prostitutes. One customer, a software-development director for Amazon, even helped construct and maintain prostitution-related websites.

The Review Board, which had been an online forum for sex buyers since , boasted it had 23, members, most of them in the Pacific Northwest, in Kgirldelights, an online advertising and booking site for South Korean prostitutes built by members of The League, was particularly popular, with more than 4 million hits in a single month.


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  • Together, the websites ensured the women in the expensive Bellevue apartments had a steady stream of customers — and that the customers had a steady supply of new women. But the bust also drew condemnation from proponents of the legalization of prostitution — and from some of the men facing criminal charges — who saw an overzealous government interfering with what they said was a reasonable exchange of sex for money among consenting adults.

    Several insisted The Review Board helped ensure the safety of the women selling sex in the Bellevue apartments because members developed an online identity and history. When the anonymous tip about the Avalon Meydenbauer apartment landed in his inbox, Bellevue police Detective Ben Richey no relation to prosecutor Richey quickly learned that the well-visited unit was leased to Donald Mueller, a year-old former marijuana dealer. Richey and another detective arranged a meeting with Mueller at a downtown Bellevue coffee shop and told him they thought he was renting the apartment for use as a brothel.

    But he not only confirmed their suspicions, he seemed eager to share the details. He would handle advertising, screening and booking. Mueller recruited primarily young South Korean women, some who came directly from South Korea and others who were already working in other U. He and another brothel manager told detectives the women or a relative had typically gotten into debt and they were forced to work as prostitutes to pay it off.

    In response to the police questioning and neighbor complaints, he had moved his operation — five blocks away. The reason, he later told undercover detectives, was he believed that Asian escorts drew the scrutiny of law enforcement alert to the possibility that the women might be trafficked around the U. But Mueller, a good friend of Zitars, was pressing him for more publicity on The Review Board for the South Korean women working out of his Bellevue apartment. He kicked off anyone he thought was rude or crude and those who tried to sneak back using a new handle.

    He carefully screened the women who wanted to advertise on the board. Three sex workers interviewed for this story said that very few African-American or Latina prostitutes were ever allowed to advertise on The Review Board. Zitars was interviewed by Seattle Met magazine for a story on prostitution in the city.

    How police brought down a tech-savvy prostitution network in Bellevue

    Using his Tahoe Ted screen name, he explained that he had been buying sex since a memorable experience after college when he ended up at a posh Bellevue condo with two gorgeous strippers. His online persona was of a worldly and experienced sex buyer who was far too careful and discriminating to ever find himself in a tawdry motel room with an undercover cop posing as a prostitute. They chatted via computer, gave advice about seeing prostitutes in other cities, recommended the best hotels to conduct business and how to avoid the scrutiny of the front desk.

    Zitars and other core members of The Review Board threw invitation-only get-togethers at local bars and brew pubs, hosted quarterly karaoke nights and dressed up for holiday-themed parties. They referred to each other only by their pseudonyms, the women as well as the men. Or how to tell if a customer was dumb versus malicious.

    If you want to be safe, it helps to talk with the other girls. Alisa Bernard was a teenage runaway and a child sex-abuse survivor when she turned to prostitution at age She has a vivid memory of meeting Zitars. With Mueller and other Review Board regulars arguing for more access to South Korean women, Zitars eventually relaxed his guard.

    Many men who posted on The Review Board would later claim they thought the online resource kept women working as prostitutes safe by giving the sex buyers an online presence and identity. But Bernard said that during the time she advertised herself on The Review Board, she was raped multiple times, strangled and held against her will. Richey, the deputy prosecutor, said the relationship between the women performing sex acts and the men paying for them is inherently unequal. The South Korean women, by contrast, were typically young, isolated in a foreign country, traveling with little more than a suitcase full of clothes, maybe overstaying a tourist visa or brought to the U.

    Many communicated with the men through a smartphone translator app — or hand gestures. Richey is even more adamant that what the South Korean prostitutes were doing could not be called consensual because they were being paid.