PHOENIX – Authorities say that more than 50 people have been charged in connection with a widespread prostitution operation that was centered in the Phoenix area and used the Internet to set up dates.
More than 100 people worked for the organization, police allege. Most were prostitutes, but many also managed the operation.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office said Paradise Valley resident Paul Nichta allegedly led a criminal enterprise that made bank deposits of $250,000 a month.
The 32-year-old was one of at least nine "key players" arrested in raids that began Monday in the Phoenix area. Police said they seized three homes, a variety of guns and eight vehicles, including a Ferrari.
Phoenix police said Tuesday night that a total of 23 suspects have been arrested so far with a total of 10 search warrants served in the Phoenix area.
The ring had ties to New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and additional arrests were made in Philadelphia and Albuquerque, police said.
Lt. Bill Schemers, of the Phoenix police vice squad, said Web sites operated by the ring appeared to offer legitimate escort services at the outset. However, customers who paid a $30 monthly fee could access a companion Web site that showed women engaging in sex acts.
"Those women were also advertised as dates," Schemers said.
The women working for the alleged ring said they were paid well.
Two former escorts told police they earned about $2,000 a night, coupled with up to $15,000 nightly in tips.
Albuquerque police arrested James Bays, 41, on 10 prostitution-related counts, including promoting prostitution and accepting the earnings of a prostitute. Investigators allege a business called Desert Divas charged clients $325 for a date and that the women gave $100 of it to Bays.
The New Mexico investigation began in March when Phoenix police contacted the Albuquerque Police Department to say they had been investigating Desert Divas and that it had recently opened in New Mexico's largest city.
In Philadelphia, the group allegedly set up operations but quickly closed down. They reportedly got "cold feet" when former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer admitted he was a client of an unrelated prostitution ring in March, The Arizona Republic reported.
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon praised the work of the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in putting the prostitution ring out of business.
"The money generated from these illegal ventures helps fund other criminal enterprises such as drug and smuggling operations."
Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris said the department's vice enforcement unit successfully targeted a large scale, sophisticated operation dealing in prostitution and pornography.
"Our experience has shown us that these crimes have far reaching consequences on our community," Harris said.
"That is why the Phoenix Police Department is committed to fighting these types of crimes."