Seven alleged members of a prostitution ring operating exclusively through classified ads placed on Craigslist were arrested in New York early Wednesday morning on charges of enterprise corruption, conspiracy and money laundering, New York State's Attorney General said.
The crackdown is the latest in a series of law enforcement efforts to curb the alleged use of the site by drug dealers, prostitutes and other criminals. The most recent came after the April 14th murder of an erotic masseuse Julissa Brisman. Medical student Philip Markoff has been charged in the case.
According to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, "Room Service Entertainment" used the online service to run its regional prostitution ring both before and after a "so-called" reforms Craigslst instituted last fall.
Following another set of modifications to Craigslist advertising practices that the company had announced following the Brisman slaying, Cuomo blasted those reforms as "half baked" and said that Craigslist had unilaterally instituted them in the middle of the night instead of cooperating with his office.
He repeated those criticisms today.
"Until Craigslist gets serious about putting real protections in place, it will continue to be an environment where criminal operations thrive with impunity," said Cuomo.
"Even after so-called reform of the website last fall, this prostitution ring easily gamed the system and allegedly used Craigslist to spread its illegal operation throughout all five boroughs and beyond. Today's arrests underscore the inherent risks posed by Craigslist and, most importantly, the need for protections that are full-fledged, not half-baked."
Craigslist released a statement saying that the company has since eliminated the posting of erotic services ads and has been screening all other ads.
"Misuse of Craigslist in connection with illicit activity is unacceptable,and we work closely with law enforcement to address it," the statement said. "It's worth noting that the enforcement effort Attorney General Cuomo describes took place in 2008, well before Craigslist eliminated erotic services and commenced manual screening of all ads posted to adult services. These new measures have driven illicit ads to other services like Village Voice Media, which AG Cuomo also mentions, that have yet to adopt strict standards. We look forward to continued cooperation with law enforcement, including Attorney General Cuomo's office."
Room Service Entertainment Co-Owners Arrested
According to Cuomo, RSE originally advertised in the Village Voice newspaper as well as on Craigslist, but fairly quickly the online service became its main way to attact business through advertising.
"From June 2007 through December 2008, RSE allegedly employed numerous 'bookers', drivers, and prostitutes."
Cuomo said that the firms "bookers" "created and posted prostitution advertisements on Craigslist's Erotic Services section because the more current the post, the more prominently the ad was featured on Craigslist. These postings contained either a pornographic or semi-pornographic photograph and a phone number to call to arrange a "date."
Arrested today on a 47 count state court indictment were the alleged co-owners of RSE, Scott "Sal" Rosenberg, 45, and Josef Davenport, 31. Also arrested were five bookers. According to Cuomo the bookers operated out of RSE's headquarters in Queens County, New York where they answered numerous telephone lines and asked each potential "John" his location and his desired services.
"The bookers were instructed not to explicitly discuss sex during the telephone conversations with the "Johns" and instead use designated terms to describe the services. For example "GFE" means girl friend experience or "skiing" and "rock climbing" means drugs and partying," Cuomo said in a statement. Once the "date" was arranged, the bookers would arrange for drivers to deliver the prostitute to the John. When the date was over, the hooker would call the bookers and a driver would be dispatched to pick her up, according to the Attorney General's office.
"Today's arrests underscore the inherent risks posed by Craigslist and, most importantly, the need for protections that are full-fledged, not half-baked," Cuomo said.
The indictment charges all seven with enterprise corruption, a B felony. If convicted, Rosenberg faces a minimum of 4 ½ - 9 years and a maximum of 12 ½ - 25 years' imprisonment; the other defendants face a minimum of one to three years and a maximum of 8 1/3 – 25 years' imprisonment, according to the Attorney General.