More Than 17 Men Arrested in Sting Involving Fake Craigslist Ad for 'Teen' Sex

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 8, 2009

The arrest of a longtime Montgomery County firefighter on charges of soliciting sex from a minor was part of a broader online sting operation that netted at least 17 men from a variety of backgrounds, one of whom lives as far away as Ohio, Montgomery County police said Friday.

Police said the sting, which goes back to March, worked this way: Officers placed an advertisement on Craigslist purporting to offer sex. Men who responded were directed to MySpace, where they were told the woman was 16 years old. Police said the men continued their inquiries even after being told the age.

An attorney for four of the men said the operation has been aggressive and unfair because the men were lured with a photograph of an adult-looking woman. "They're attacking people looking for normal sex, and they're destroying lives," said the attorney, Rebecca Nitkin.

In some cases, her clients didn't realize they were communicating with a purported minor, Nitkin said. Those who did realize her age did not know it is illegal to arrange online for sex with a 16-year-old or thought the claim that she was a teenager was more of a "marketing" tool than reality, Nitkin said.

A police spokesman said the initial Craigslist site might not have disclosed the age. "There's no 16-year-old area on Craigslist," Lt. Paul Starks said.

In ensuing exchanges, either by e-mail or text messages, the officers clearly presented themselves as underage, police said.

The sting eventually apprehended men ranging in age from about 17 to 60, Starks said.

One of those charged was Lt. Wayne A. Mothershead, a Montgomery firefighter for more than 20 years. Police said he initiated contact at a Craigslist site and was referred by police to a MySpace page that indicated that the person was 16 years old.

Nitkin, who represents the firefighter, said there is insufficient evidence to prove the charges.

According to charging documents, Mothershead was taken into custody and admitted to police that he communicated "with a subject he believed to be a 16-year-old female for the purpose of prostitution."

Nitkin said that of her three other clients, one pleaded guilty to marijuana charges and the soliciting charges were dropped. She said the other two have entered pleas of soliciting prostitution from an adult and await sentencing.

At her office Friday, Nitkin allowed one client to speak to a reporter on the condition that his name not be disclosed. The client, an engineer, said that after his initial Craigslist query, he learned that the subject of his interest claimed to be 16. "First I thought, 'No good,' " he said.

Then he said he considered several things, among them that the person had to be older to have a credit card to set up an online presence, and concluded she was older.

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