By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 13, 2006
They enter the massage parlors as undercover detectives. They leave as satisfied customers.
In Spotsylvania County, as part of a campaign by the sheriff's office to root out prostitution in the massage parlor business, detectives have been receiving sexual services from "masseuses." During several visits to Moon Spa on Plank Road last month, detectives allowed women to perform sexual acts on them on four occasions and once left a $350 tip, according to court papers.
Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard D. Smith said that the practice is not new and that only unmarried detectives are assigned to such cases. Most prostitutes are careful not to say anything incriminating, so sexual contact is necessary, he said.
"If I thought we could get the conviction without that, we wouldn't allow it," Smith said. "If you want to make them, this has to be done."
But numerous police and legal experts said they were not aware of any law enforcement agency in the Washington region, or the country, that allows sexual contact in prostitution investigations. Police should not break the law to enforce it, they said.
"It's insane," said Charles J. Key Sr., a retired Baltimore police lieutenant who trains police officers and federal agents across the country. "If you allow officers to go through with the act, they've violated the law. You don't get an exception for participating in a violation of law."
Similar investigations by police in the Maryland suburbs in recent years have not ended well. In 1995, police in Howard County allowed detectives to receive sexual services from masseuses. But prosecutors later dismissed the charges against nearly all of those arrested rather than expose the investigation's tactics in open court. Five years ago, Montgomery County police sent informers into massage parlors to have sex with women there. Prosecutors told police to stop the practice, which they did, and dismissed charges against the women.
Henry "Hap" Connors Jr., chairman of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors, was unaware that county investigators were having sexual contact with suspects.
Connors questioned the use of resources but expressed confidence in Smith.
"I would hope that our deputies have better ways to investigate this type of thing and have other priorities they are pursuing," he said. "We just had a kid stabbed to death. I'd hope they would spend more time pursuing those matters than pursuing pleasurable acts."
Supervisor Robert Hagan said: "It sounds like a legal question. If Fairfax is able to accomplish this without crossing that line, I would think we'd be able to do it, too. But I'm not the sheriff, and Howard's a pretty smart guy. . . . It seems extreme."
Typically, a verbal agreement to provide services and an overt act such as undressing or producing a condom will support a charge of soliciting prostitution, according to prosecutors, defense lawyers, police officials and law professors.
Key and others said undercover officers need obtain only an offer of sex for money to make a case. "Most of the time, they can get [prostitutes] far enough where there's a solicitation," he said, "an offer of sex, which is far enough to put them under arrest."
Jon Gould, a criminal law professor at George Mason University, said of the sexual contact in Spotsylvania: "I've never heard of that anywhere else in any police department. You don't have to go through with the act to prove" solicitation. He called it an improper use of taxpayer dollars.
Smith said most "professionals" know better than to name an explicit act and a price. And with the Asian-run parlors that have periodically sprung up in Spotsylvania, he said, "they don't speak much English. There's not a lot of conversation." Smith and Spotsylvania Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Thomas Shaia likened the situation to investigators buying drugs from a drug dealer -- a necessary violation to prove a larger crime.
But police officials and prosecutors in many Northern Virginia jurisdictions said buying drugs, as undercover officers routinely do, is not analogous. Officers purchase drugs for evidence but don't use them. Likewise, the other jurisdictions do not allow their officers to conduct sexual activities with suspected prostitutes.
"Our policy has always been no, we don't do it," said Robert F. Horan Jr., Fairfax County's chief prosecutor for nearly four decades. "Normally, there is a conversation where you agree what the sexual act is going to be and what the price is going to be," Horan said. He noted that such a negotiation isn't too difficult because "there aren't a lot of Phi Beta Kappas in that field."
Horan added: "They've got to get some agreement. Otherwise, they're doing it for love."
Capt. John Crawford, an Alexandria police spokesman, said that the city's detectives might go so far as to disrobe but that once a suspected prostitute makes a move to "the guy's personal area," she is arrested.
Spotsylvania sheriff's deputies have shut down several massage parlors with the help of the Virginia attorney general's office, specifically its Financial Crime Intelligence Center. The director of the center, Edward J. Doyle, authored the affidavit for the raid last week on Moon Spa, which resulted in the arrest of two Fairfax residents -- Hae Suk Chon and Chung Hwan Choe -- who are alleged to be the spa's proprietors.
According to the affidavit, after receiving a tip about possible impropriety at Moon Spa, two unidentified Spotsylvania detectives promptly visited the spa and each paid $60 for 30-minute massages in separate rooms. A woman known only as Mimi gave the detectives a bath, a brief massage and then performed a sex act on them. "For her services, 'Mimi' was paid a $50 'tip,' " Doyle wrote. Police made two more visits with similar results.
Doyle said he did not want to comment on the propriety of sexual contact between investigators and suspects, referring questions to the sheriff.
Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) declined to discuss the investigative techniques of the case. "This investigation is a matter for local law enforcement," spokesman Tucker Martin said.
Key, the former Baltimore lieutenant, noted that he would have concerns for the officers' health, their psychological well-being and any difficulties such duty might cause with their families, in addition to the legal issues.
Smith said, "It's not something the sheriff likes his people to do, but in these cases, it's the only way to prosecute these people." He said his department's approach was not a secret since detectives had testified to similar experiences in trials of other massage parlor operators.