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Where Is the Love?

Turns out the summer’s big-news prostitution sting wasn’t half as sexy as reported.

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Back on June 14, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department announced that officers in its vice unit, working with cops from other jurisdictions across the metro, had concluded a prostitution sting leading to 100 arrests -- johns as well as janes and at least one Reverend john.

Kansas City media outlets jumped on the story, eager to expose local citizens' sad attempts to exchange money for sex.

On June 15, The Kansas City Star reported that "about 100 people" had been arrested in a sting that police sources called the first of its kind. Recounting the operation, the Star explained that the KCPD had lured prostitutes and their clients into the waiting arms of the law by running escort-service ads on the Internet and in "a local weekly newspaper." (That would be the Pitch.) Sergeant Brad Dumit, the Kansas City police officer behind the effort, told the Star it had been "a fabulous week."

That night, KMBC Channel 9 reported that dozens of arrests had been made by twenty agencies and that, at one house, Corporal Bruce Houston of the Missouri Highway Patrol had found an eleven-year-old girl in bed with a registered sex offender. Two days later, the Independence Examiner ran its own pumped-up headline over a story citing Dumit's 100-arrest count: "Hooker Ring Busted."

Then, on June 19, four Star reporters put together a story noting that "several prominent people" had been arrested. They included a Catholic priest, a Clay County sheriff's deputy, a Shawnee Mission South High School track coach and the vice president of a Baptist college.

Within two weeks, the guilty pleas were coming in. Those were duly reported as well. According to all the news coverage, 100 arrests equaled "success."

However, 100 arrests -- a number the Pitch has been unable to verify -- do not equal 100 men and women charged and prosecuted. And Dumit and his fellow law enforcers have yet to provide anywhere near 100 names.

After inquiries to all of the jurisdictions involved in the metrowide sting, the Pitch has determined that 46 men and women were actually charged.

Dumit says he wanted to put together a master file of buyers and sellers in Kansas City's sex trade. But he says he was too busy making arrests to keep accurate records.

"We had planned on keeping stats on every single person," he says. "We only anticipated getting, like, fifty arrests when it all started. By day three, we hit that."

In addition to the priest, the track coach and the deputy, the accused included a couple of fifty-year-old hookers who had put in years of service.

In Kansas City, Missouri, nine men and women were charged with violating city ordinances. Typical was one 38-year-old woman who was charged with operating a business without a license, possessing drug paraphernalia and not wearing her seatbelt. (She faces up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine on each charge.)

Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd filed state charges of patronizing a prostitute against twenty men, most of whom had gone to the Riverside Super 8 Motel in response to an ad. His office also charged one man and one woman with prostitution. Both charges are class-B misdemeanors, which carry a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. For those who pleaded guilty, Zahnd recommended sentences of two years' probation, forty hours of community service, tests for sexually transmitted diseases and counseling.

In Merriam, thirteen men were charged with patronizing a prostitute. (One earned an additional charge of sexual battery.) All, like traffic tickets, were municipal court offenses.

Dumit says he believes all but one of the arrestees has pleaded guilty. (The sheriff's deputy who responded to an escort ad with his safety off may be gearing up for a fight, his lawyer tells the Pitch.) Other than the $300 he spent to place the advertisements (one of which read "Wicked witch of the west wants to ride your broomstick"), Dumit could not provide the Pitch with the final cost of the operation, which involved time logged by officers in Merriam, Liberty, Wyandotte County, North Kansas City, Gardner, Riverside, Harrisonville, Overland Park, Lenexa and Independence as well as by the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

Guilty pleas may not be a true indicator of the operation's success. People accused in prostitution cases have to weigh their chances of being acquitted against the potential for enduring more publicity. "The cost [for the accused] is not just financial," says Anthony Cardarella, public defender for Clay, Platte and Clinton counties, who has escorted plenty of prostitution offenders through the legal system (though none arrested in this sting).

For Cardarella, the operation seemed like a lot of work for little payoff. "What I hate is spending law-enforcement money for the sake of spending law-enforcement money when they could be fighting crime, particularly violent crime," he says. "People who are prone to commit this crime are not going to stop committing the crime," he adds. "They are going to do it, arguably, somewhere that involves less safe sex."

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