Two months after Craigslist promised to rid itself of advertisements placed by prostitutes, law enforcement officials say the online classified ad site is still in the business of selling sex.
From a sheriff who has no intention of dropping his lawsuit to an attorney general who suggests that he and colleagues could further pressure the company to crack down on online prostitution, they say they are not through with Craigslist.
"It makes me wonder, do they really think I'm sort of stupid, some bobblehead who will think they changed it?" said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who sued the San Francisco-based company earlier this year, calling it the nation's largest source of prostitution. "They seem to insist on being cute and playing games (and) it's getting old."
Dart and others acknowledge that when the popular site pulled the plug on its "erotic services" category and replaced it with a new "adult services" section, it did away with the most graphic photographs.
But they say there is no mistaking that sex is still being sold on the site. Ad after ad include photographs of scantily clad women in suggestive poses. Many offer massages or undefined services — "Just imagine what we could do," reads one; "Your wife or girlfriend won't do this for you, but we will," reads another — with listing prices that vary depending on how much time is required.
In an e-mail, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster dismissed Dart's lawsuit as a publicity stunt.
"The citizens of Cook County would arguably be better served if their sheriff spent his time addressing actual crime, rather than using the courts to generate personal publicity," he wrote.
Craigslist announced the changes in May amid mounting criticism of the ads and pressure to do something about them, which grew when a Boston-area area man was accused of fatally shooting a woman who placed an ad on the site.
In addition to eliminating the "erotic services" category, Craigslist promised to pre-screen all submissions to the new section and charge a fee.
At the time, Dart's attorney said Craigslist's attorney told him the changes would render the lawsuit unnecessary and suggested Dart drop it.
But there were questions then about the new category and how Craigslist would monitor it before allowing ads to be posted. Attorneys general said Craigslist had broken previous promises to monitor erotic ads.
"They are so thinly disguised, the real question is how they are permitted to be there if, in fact, the site is doing the screening and policing that they said they will do," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said.
Dan Gallagher, Dart's attorney in his lawsuit, said it is impossible to read many of the ads without concluding they are solicitations for prostitution — such as ones he's seen from women who offer escort services for as little as 15 minutes.
"They (Craigslist) go to great lengths to say this is just a site so that people can meet one another to fulfill their romantic aspirations," he said. "I don't think having an escort for 15 minutes is a fulfillment of romantic aspirations."
Not only that, Gallagher said, the ads are becoming more obvious prostitution solicitations than they were even before "adult services" replaced "erotic services."
He said the euphemism for payment with phrases such as "150 roses" or "200 diamonds" that detectives monitoring the site once saw are disappearing.
Now, he said, "they give the price," adding that dollar signs are increasingly popping up.
Law enforcement officials say they have not received information about the Craigslist monitors, including how many there are, their qualifications and what type of ads they refuse to post.
"It's painfully obvious they're just blowing me off, humoring me,' said Dart, adding that Craigslist hasn't responded to his requests for information.
Blumenthal said Craigslist has responded to his requests, and while he won't say what the company has told him, he said he is still waiting for answers to many of the same questions as Dart.
"At the very least what we want to know what is the list of prohibited terms, what are their criteria and procedures," he said. "If they need it, we will give them a list of terms."
Blumenthal said a coalition of 40 attorneys general was considering its options and could announce its next move by next week.
As for Dart, his detectives are conducting sting operations and making arrests.