The alleged leader of what authorities have called the largest male prostitution operation in the Washington area surrendered to federal agents yesterday and pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges that have been filed against him and three alleged accomplices.
Henry W. Vinson, 29, of Williamson, W.Va., a coal miner's son accused of setting up the homosexual escort service, was arraigned in U.S. District Court here yesterday afternoon after turning himself in to Secret Service agents. Bond was set at $30,000.
Law enforcement agents said they had been looking for Vinson since May 31, when authorities said a 43-count sealed indictment was returned against him and his alleged accomplices, Robert A. Chambers, 37, of Upper Marlboro; James A. Macko, 29, of Michigan; and James Travis Smith, 23, of Florida.
Chambers is expected to be arraigned this morning. Macko and Smith are being sought, according to U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens.
At a news conference after the arraignment, Stephens said the investigation into the alleged prostitution ring "is concluded" and that the indictment, which was unsealed yesterday, focused on those who allegedly set up the ring rather than on clients who reportedly patronized it.
Asked about earlier reports that some of those clients included high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush administrations, Stephens said the investigation had not revealed "additional conduct which suggests criminal conduct on behalf of other people."
Allegations about the prostitution ring first surfaced in February 1989, when police and Secret Service agents broke down the door to Vinson's Upper Northwest house, where, they claim in court documents, he was operating escort services that advertised under the names of "Man to Man," "Jack's Jocks," and "Dream Boys."
The Vinson case provoked additional notice after The Washington Times published reports last summer suggesting that the alleged prostitution ring had been patronized by government officials. The Times named as clients several low-level government employees and Craig J. Spence, a Washington lobbyist and party-giver who, the paper said, took friends and prostitutes on late-night tours of the White House.
Spence was found dead in a Boston hotel room last fall, and authorities ruled his death a suicide.
During the raid on Vinson's house, according to police records, authorities seized a sophisticated AT&T telephone bank, paging devices, an adding machine, a credit card imprinter and a credit card approval machine. They also found lists of alleged customers' names and lists of preferred sexual acts, addresses, telephone numbers and prices.
To date, however, investigators have disclosed no evidence linking any high-level government official to the escort service.
The indictment charges the four defendants with conspiracy, racketeering, and interstate transportation for the purposes of prostitution. Vinson and Chambers are also charged with credit card fraud.
The indictment charges that Vinson set up the alleged prostitution ring sometime prior to August 1987 and served as its leader until at least June 1989.
Chambers, the son of the owner of a Riverdale funeral home where Vinson once worked, is accused of helping to establish the ring and obtaining a merchant account with American Express to process credit cards used by clients.
Researcher Ben Iannotta also contributed to this report.