Recent sex sting is first in county targeting johns'
Investigation by county police focuses on people looking to pay for sex with minors
An underage sex sting by police that netted at least 18 arrests over the past several months is county law enforcement's first effort to target the "demand" side of prostitution.
An equal number of underage and adult prostitutes are working in the county, according to Lt. Robert Bolesta, a member of Montgomery County Police's Special Investigative Division and the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force. Bolesta said investigating the human trafficking of minors has been the vice squad's top priority for the past five years, and that, like their customers, the prostitutes come from a variety of backgrounds.
Over the last five years, police have conducted about 50 investigations into human trafficking networks related to underage and adult prostitutes, their pimps, drivers and other members of prostitution rings, Bolesta estimated. Not all of the investigations led to arrests.
"If I had triple the amount of guys, we would have triple the amount of cases," Bolesta said. Currently, six investigators are working on prostitution and trafficking cases, as well as gambling, he said.
Some of the unit's previous investigations that focused on prostitutes and pimps rather than johns have lasted as long as 18 months from first contact to arrests.
In the county's first attempt at cracking down on the people hiring prostitutes, undercover officers posed as minors on the Internet. At least 18 men between the ages of 20 and 56, some from as far away as Ohio and New Jersey, have been arrested by police for soliciting sex from a minor.
Recently, the vice squad has been encouraged by human trafficking advocacy groups, such as the Polaris Project in Washington, D.C., to focus on arresting "johns" in an effort to scare off demand for prostitution services, Bolesta said.
Bradley Myles, deputy director of the Polaris Project, said law enforcement groups have begun to reconsider the practice of being tougher on prostitutes than on pimps and johns.
"I think law enforcement are the first to say, and to realize, that really isn't going to be a long-term solution," Myles said, adding that johns on the Internet represent "low hanging fruit" for police officers.
The lack of any red light district in Montgomery County has made the Internet much more attractive for people soliciting sex from prostitutes, Bolesta said.
In the minor sex sting operation, the undercover officer claimed to reside in a city in Montgomery County, but then told the johns to meet at a street intersection or other location in the county where an arrest by other police officers could take place quickly.
Roland Denton, a Howard County police officer and president of the Maryland Children's Alliance, said that during some community presentations officers set up computers and pose as an underage prostitute on sex sites, using certain terms to attract people in search of minors.
"You'll see very quickly how many hits you'll get from people trying to hook up with this girl," Denton said.
But the MySpace page that Montgomery County firefighter Wayne Mothershead allegedly used to contact a female undercover officer posing as a 16-year-old does a bad job of targeting predators, because the pictures and descriptions used are not consistent with minors, said Mothershead's Rockville Attorney Rebecca Nitkin.
Mothershead, 44, of Taneytown was arrested July 20 for allegedly seeking sexual contact with a police officer who was posing as a female teen on social networking Web site MySpace.
Mothershead's scheduled preliminary hearing on Friday was waived. If a grand jury indicts Mothershead on the felony charge of sexual solicitation of a minor, it must do so by Sept. 11. If he is not indicted, a felony dismissal hearing in District Court in Rockville will take place that day.
The 22-year veteran of county Fire and Rescue did not access the pages on MySpace, Nitkin said. She also said there was no "back and forth conversation" between Mothershead and the undercover female police officer.
"Mr. Mothershead never looked at them," said Nitkin, referring to the MySpace pages.
Mothershead initially contacted the undercover officer through an advertisement for prostitution in the adult section of Craigslist, a Web site for classified ads, according to police charging documents. Nitkin declined to comment on whether Mothershead accessed the Craigslist ad.
Montgomery County police executed a search warrant Friday morning at Mothershead's Taneytown home to seize his computer in hope that it would show evidence that he accessed the pages in question, Nitkin said. Charging documents stated that Mothershead used his county e-mail address to initially contact the undercover officer.
Police spokeswoman Lucille Baur confirmed on Friday that the search warrant was executed at Mothershead's home.
Police have evidence that he used a county computer to contact the undercover officer, Baur said, and are now "trying to confirm whether or not he used his personal computer as well."
County employees do not have access to MySpace from county computers, but they do have access to Craigslist, county spokeswoman Donna Bigler said.
While Nitkin denied that Mothershead looked at the MySpace pages related to the sting, she also stressed that the sting operation was targeting the "wrong group of people" because it was more likely to catch people looking to hire adult prostitutes rather than predators soliciting sex from minors. The female pictured on MySpace appeared to be significantly older than 16, and the page stated that the individual made $150,000, unlikely for a 16-year-old, Nitkin said.
Bolesta, however, said the page clearly represents that the female is 16 years old, and that the $150,000 salary is supposed to represent what an underage prostitute could earn.
"One can make a lot of money," he said.
Nitkin said that after she began representing clients arrested in the operation in March, she told police that the operation was poorly thought out and executed.
"I have been trying to stop this operation from day one," she said.
Kimberly Mothershead, Wayne Mothershead's wife, said in an interview at Nitkin's law office Friday morning that the couple has two adult children. Mothershead has been ordered to not have any contact with children.
"My husband has been an amazing man," Kimberly Mothershead said. "He's been an amazing husband and father."