Seven charged with using Craigslist to run prostitution ring

Indictments come amid legal wrangling and public brouhaha over site's Erotic Services ads

Seven people were indicted this week on charges that they were operating a prostitution ring that advertised exclusively on Craigslist. The indictments are the latest in a series of blows to the Craigslist classified advertising Web site.

New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced the takedown of the alleged prostitution ring, called Room Service Entertainment, yesterday. According to Cuomo, the business was run from the Queens borough of New York City and advertised exclusively in the Erotic Services section of Craigslist.

The business was co-owned and operated by Scott "Sal" Rosenberg, 45, and Josef Davenport, 31, said Cuomo. The company's manager and booker, Patricia "Nikki" Krupa, 32, and four other bookers associated with the operation also were also charged in the 47 count indictment unsealed yesterday in Queens County Court.

The charges against the seven include enterprise corruption, conspiracy and money laundering, according to Cuomo's office.

"Until Craigslist gets serious about putting real protections in place, it will continue to be an environment where criminal operations thrive with impunity," Cuomo said in a statement.

"Even after the so-called reform of the Web site last fall, this prostitution ring easily gamed the system and allegedly used Craigslist to spread its illegal operation throughout all five boroughs and beyond. Today's arrests underscore the inherent risks posed by Craigslist and, most importantly, the need for protections that are full-fledged, not half-baked."

The indictments come amid legal wrangling and verbose public back and forth between executives of Craigslist and various state attorneys general, who have been pushing the site to eliminate its racy advertisements. Earlier this month Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called Craigslist an "online brothel" while South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster threatened a criminal investigation and possible prosecution if the site doesn't clean up its act.

Those moves came after Cook County, Ill., Sheriff Thomas J. Dart filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in March against the owners of Craigslist, accusing them of knowingly promoting and facilitating prostitution.

The suit was filed just four months after the Web site had settled a national lawsuit and vowed to set up safeguards to restrict some postings on the Web site.

Blumenthal backed off his criticism last week after Craigslist announced plans to remove the Erotic Services category from its Web site within seven days.

It's being replaced with an Adult Services category, that Buckmaster said will be manually reviewed. Blumenthal applauded that decision.

Craigslist this week turned the tables on McMaster by filing a federal lawsuit against the attorney general for the threat to go after the Web site and its racy ads.

The company is seeking a restraining order and declaratory relief, which is a court's judgment on a party's rights without awarding damages or ordering anything to be done.

In a previous interview with Computeworld, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said the company works hard to keep illegal activity off the Web site.

While some of the ads in the Erotic Services category have included nude photos and list hourly rates, Buckmaster contended at the time that the advertisements are not necessarily pushing illegal services.

"There's nothing illegal about charging by the hour," he said. "I would encourage you to do some research on what constitutes an ad soliciting sex in exchange for money."

The Erotic Services category on Craigslist has been under heavy scrutiny since Boston University medical student Philip Markoff was arrested and arraigned last month for allegedly murdering one woman and kidnapping and assaulting another after meeting both of them through erotic services ads on Craigslist.

In the indictment unsealed this week, Cuomo alleges that Room Service Entertainment employed "numerous bookers, drivers and prostitutes.

"Although [the company] initially advertised in The Village Voice and other local papers, Craigslist became the sole vehicle through which the company operated," according to a release from Cuomo's office.

"The bookers ... continuously created and posted prostitution advertisements on Craigslist's Erotic Services section because the more current the post, the more prominently the ad was featured on Craigslist. These postings contained either a pornographic or semi-pornographic photograph and a phone number to call to arrange a 'date'."

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Sharon Gaudin

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