By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Eyewitness News I-Team went inside a Philadelphia hotel with police to reveal how Citywide Vice is changing its tactics to target prostitution.
It’s the first time the Philadelphia Police Department has allowed the media inside a sting operation of its kind.
The Vice squad posted provocative ads on backpage.com.
A few minutes later, men began answering them.
They were completely unaware that the women they had arranged to meet were actually undercover female police officers and the I-Team and police were watching from next door.
“He’s in. Okay, he’s in,” said Sgt. Joe Lanciano, Citywide Vice.
Once inside the female officer’s rooms and the exchange of cash had been made, police arrested the so-called “Johns.”
“I’m not here to do anything. I’m sorry, I didn’t do anything,” said one of them.
“C’mon man. I’ve got kids. Please don’t do this to me,” said another.
Police arrested seven “Johns” in about three hours during the operation which took place mid-day during the work week.
All seven men were charged with a misdemeanor for criminal solicitation.
The defendants include Andrew Muse, 29, Keith Cramer, 43, Aaron Lewis, 26, Victor Gorbachev, 54, Alex Ocasio, 23, Derrell Johnson, 32 and Anthony Hess, 20.
None of the defendants responded to Eyewitness News’ requests for comment except for Gorbachev’s attorney, Michael Kotik, Esq.
“At this time my client is innocent until proven guilty and we still have to explore the discovery associated with this case so we can better determine the appropriate course of action,” he said.
Sting operations: Why the vice squad is stepping up their game, changing tactics
Northeast Philadelphia has become a “hotbed” for prostitution according to Capt. Derrick Wood, former Citywide Vice commander.
“So we are really stepping up our efforts … We feel like for decades we’ve been attacking the women. A lot of these women are victims. They’re being taken advantage of and exploited by these customers who come there to patronize. So we’ve changed our tactics,” he said.
In addition to arresting prostitutes, police are attacking the demand for prostitution in the city.
“We’re trying to attack this from the demand end and are going after the guys who are frequenting the prostitutes. We’re taking their cell phones, we’re taking their money and we’re publicizing their names. So we want to get the word out that if you’re going to come to Philadelphia to pick up prostitutes, you’re going to pay the consequences,” said Sgt. Lanciano.
Police: Prostitution is a public safety issue
“We’ve got guys who are Megan’s Law offenders, wanted by the feds, wanted for murder or been arrested for murder in the past. So we use the word ‘Johns’ but these guys aren’t necessarily you’re next door neighbors,” says Capt. Wood.
Police say prostitution is a magnet for all types of crime including guns, drugs and human trafficking which can put even innocent bystanders in danger.
For example, last March police say two pimps started shooting at each other inside a Philadelphia hotel.
Sting operations: Are they effective in decreasing prostitution?
Police say the rate of “Johns” who re-offend vs. the rate of prostitutes who re-offend is drastically different.
During sting operations in 2014, Capt. Wood says the vice squad arrested 313 “Johns,” more than double the number from the year prior.
Of the 313 men arrested in 2014, only a couple of them had previously been arrested for the same crime. Whereas the majority of prostitutes arrested during sting operations had prior arrests for the same crime.
“So it is law enforcement’s belief that after the men go through something like this, it is enough to deter them from doing it again … You decrease the demand for prostitution and you decrease prostitution altogether,” said Capt. Wood.