Johns be warned: That prostitute advertising on Craigslist might not be who she says she is.
Investigators with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department and state police posed as prostitutes in online ads during a sting that culminated in a dozen arrests over an eight-hour period Thursday. Chief Deputy Richard Castle said the operation, set up at a Clifton Park hotel he did not disclose, was so successful, authorities had a tough time keeping up with the number of johns responding to the ad.
“We were surprised by how many we got,” Castle said. “We were only limited by how fast we could turn them over.”
Castle said the sting began with an ad similar to some of the other salacious ones posted on various Internet sites. He said the johns responded by phone or through email, then arranged to meet with a woman at an area hotel.
But instead of a sexual tryst, the johns found themselves in police custody. Castle said the operation was extensive enough that investigators set up in another nearby room to process the johns while they waited for others to arrive.
“And they just kept coming,” he said.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III was surprised by the number of calls the operation received in a short period of time. He said police who set up the ad were getting calls in quick succession after the ad was posted.
“We’re seeing more and more of these pop-up ads on sites like Backpage and Craigslist,” he said. “There’s no attempt to even hide what the ad is about.”
The Clifton Park operation followed a similar one at an unnamed hotel in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday, targeting prostitutes and pimps setting up shop in the city during track season. City police arrested nine women on prostitution charges during the operation, which also focused on advertisements placed online.
The city operation in which officers posed as johns was busy enough that police barely had time to arrest one of the alleged prostitutes before another came knocking. Murphy said one of the alleged prostitutes became so irate that a john wasn’t answering his door that she started making a scene outside his room.
“She was banging on the door, yelling ‘you called me,’ ‘it’s my turn,’ and ‘I want my money,’ ” Murphy said. “Well, she got her money and then ultimately got arrested.”
Those arrested and charged with misdemeanor prostitution included Challana L. Dobbs, 28 of Schenectady; Ashley M. Morales, 21, of Cohoes; Stephanie D. Jones, 27, of Albany; Domenica M. Sheldon, 25, of Albany; Alison D. Bruno, 35, of Albany; Shameeka A. Lewis, 36 of Albany; Nicole M. Hickman, 37 of Albany; Dionne G. Ingoldsby, 28, of Scotia; and Jamie C. Peppin, 33, of Ballston Spa. Also arrested was Michelle L. Barr, who was charged with possession of marijuana after arriving at the room with one of the alleged prostitutes.
In the Clifton Park operation, the dozen men were charged with patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor offense. All are scheduled to appear in Town Court at a later date.
Those arrested include Michael J. Smith, 44, of North Creek; David A. Johnson, 58, of Albany; Theodore A. Rozell, 43, of Whitehall; William G. Wade, 40, of Ballston Spa; Eric D. Kohls, 39, of Ballston Lake; Wilson Colon, 41, of Clifton Park; Johnathon R. Davis, 25, of Schenectady; Mark E. Fellows, 49, of Cato; Quincy L. Brackett, 35, of Mobile, Ala.; Leonard Galati, 49, of Staten Island; Maxwell G. Owens, 24, of Mechanicville, who was also ticketed for a violation count of unlawful possession of marijuana; and Glenn D. Weaver, 43, of Colonie.
The Saratoga Springs arrests follow a string of prostitution busts around the county involving massage parlors over the past six months. Last month, authorities raided an alleged prostitution ring at a business called Health Spa located about a half-mile from the Maple Avenue Middle School.
In January, city police raided the Happy Angel Spa on Church Street, charging three Queens women with prostitution and performing massages without a state license. The raid followed similar ones in Niskayuna, Scotia and Halfmoon last year.
“People need to know that if they come to Saratoga County for this kind of thing, they’re going to get charged,” Murphy said.