EXCLUSIVE: Crackdown on suburban prostitution

UPPER MERION TWP., Pa. - November 1, 2010

Call girls from across the country use the moneyed and relatively safe environment of Montgomery County and the Main Line to sell themselves to clients with cash to burn.

In the process, police say, the prostitutes create an environment rife with other crimes including theft, assault and drugs.

"There are 13 hotels and motels located in Upper Merion Township and we've received numerous complaints from the hotel operators about prostitution activity," said Lt. James Early of the Upper Merion Township Police.

Faced with what he calls a growing trend, Lt. Early has assembled an elite task force aimed at weeding out so-called 'suburban prostitution.'

Action News was there one recent morning as detectives begin by setting up dates, talking online to women whose postings leave little to the imagination. Once the dates are set the Upper Merion Police, joined by Montgomery County prosecutors and the FBI, draw up their plans.

Two tactical teams, experts with these sorts of stings, establish the ground rules: Each will cover a different hotel in King of Prussia, waiting for the women to arrive and for the signal for an undercover officer inside. That's when they make the arrest.

At one hotel, the signal is slow to come. Several girls, perhaps suspicious, don't show up for scheduled dates. The officers, gathered in an adjoining room, wait patiently.

Then, two girls show up together. Moments later, they are joined by police. They claim to have come from North Carolina, which police here say is common. In some cases, prostitutes come for up to two weeks at a time to make as much as cash as possible before heading home.

In the other hotel meanwhile, the call comes quickly. An officer inside, posing as a "John," has met with his "date," who he says offers her services in exchange for cash. Officers outside move in and make the bust, and find someone less filled with shame.

She flashes a smile at our camera, which she seems more than happy to see.

"Oh my gosh, I'm going to be a star," she said.

As it turns out this woman, in from Las Vegas, had just gotten out of jail in Atlantic County. She gave every indication she'd be back again.

"You're not going to give this up, huh?" we asked. "No," she replied.

Police, though, hope that with frequent, successful, stings like this, the call girls who come here won't find any future clients.

"We hope that they take notice and realize that police are enforcing these violations and we will take action," said Lt. Early.

Upper Merion Police say they often hear criticism from people who think prostitution is a victimless crime and these stings, therefore, are a waste of time.

However, they tell us, they've too often seen girls, sometimes underage, forced into that lifestyle. They've also seen Johns who often end up robbed, assaulted, or worse.

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