111 arrested in massive prostitution, drug sting by MCSO

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by Natalie Brand

Bio | Email | Follow: @NatalieBrand

Vide report by Jill Galus and Natalie Brand

Posted on December 18, 2013 at 6:24 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 20 at 2:34 PM

30 johns caught on camera trying to buy 'teen' for sex

PHOENIX -- Sheriff's deputies arrested 111 people on prostitution and drug charges in a massive sting operation called Operation Vice Grip.

One of the biggest portions of the sting involved dozens of arrests for child prostitution.

More than half of the 111 arrests are for various sex- and drug-related felony charges, including 20 arrests connected to child prostitution.

  • 30 soliciting a minor for prostitution
  • 31 misdemeanor prostitution charges
  • 21 drug-related felonies
  • 18 adult business misdemeanors
  • 16 outstanding felony warrants

In the course of the two-week long operation, investigators also seized 32 pounds of meth, 2 kilos of cocaine, 487 pounds of marijuana, nearly $35,000 in cash and seven firearms.

3TV's  cameras went along on one component of the undercover operation to give us an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how Operation Vice Grip went down.

It started with an ad on the Internet site Back Page. Once it was posted, the phone calls started rolling in. On the other end of the line, an undercover Tempe police detective posing as a 16-year-old girl. While talking to potential johns on the phone, she made her age very clear.

"I'm 16," she can be heard saying on surveillance video. Apparently, that's exactly what the men wanted. Dozens agreed to meet her at a hotel.

While the deal is being made in one room, investigators in another room watch a live video feed and gather all of the evidence they'll need for prosecutors. Everything is caught on camera and recorded.

"We've had a couple of guys walk in and it was almost like a prerequisite for them. 'Are you really 16?'" MCSO Special Investigations Capt. Steve Bailey explained. "Once the girl said yes it was almost like a motivator."

A high school chemistry teacher was among the men arrested for soliciting underage prostitutes. Jerry Marfe, 54, resigned from his teaching position at Betty H. Fairfax High School in Laveen directly after his arrest.

Other notable arrests included Raymond John Cordero, a level two sex offender currently on probation, as well as John David Wythe, 48, who had served 10 years in prison for child molestation, according to MCSO officials.

A DirecTV employee still in his work uniform also was arrested.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio said one man told the officers he wanted to have sex with two girls and dropped by to do that on his way to his own daughter's 16th birthday party.

"We've had a fair number of people saying, 'This is going to ruin my marriage,' 'I'm going to lose my job,'" Bailey said. "Our response is pretty much the same. 'You should have thought of that before you picked up the phone or decided to get out of your car in the parking lot.'"

The charges these 30 suspects face are class 2 felonies, which could mean a minimum seven years in prison.

While investigators knew they would be making arrests, Operation Vice Grip was eye-opening -- even for them.

"I don't think any of us really anticipated the volume," Bailey said.

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