PHOENIX -- Maricopa County sheriff's detectives investigating drug trafficking at an East Valley hotel busted a prostitution ring and took dozens into custody.
Detectives had been conducting surveillance on the Inn Suites Hotel adjacent to Guadalupe for alleged marijuana trafficking when it became increasingly apparent that the hotel was being used for a large-scale prostitution operation, according to the sheriff's office.
Detectives said hotel management and owners were unaware of the situation.
An investigation was launched after detectives confronted a hotel guest who admitted that he had just left a room where he visited a prostitute.
He told detectives that he got her information from Backpage.com, a website owned and operated by the Village Voice Media group, a Phoenix-based corporate publishing group which publishes 17 alternative newspapers across the country, including Phoenix New Times.
Deputies moved forward to investigate how large the operation might be and determined that the connection between prostitute and customer came almost exclusively from advertisements in Backpage.com. Virtually all of the women were advertising their "escort services" when in fact their real purpose was soliciting sex for money, according to MCSO.
Undercover detectives contacted the women through the Backpage.com site and arranged to meet them at a number of hotels along on the Interstate 10 Baseline Road corridor. When money was requested for sex, the arrest was made.
In the last few years, Backpage.com and its parent company have been the focus of several law enforcement operations across the nation and their link to child exploitation and forced prostitution allegations, according to sheriff's officials.
"Sex trade advertising is apparently a big revenue generator for the Village Voice Media group, making it unlikely the corporate owners would suspend accepting that kind of business," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a news release.
"So if they won't police themselves, it's up to law enforcement to keep the pressure on by periodically finding and arresting the men and women who use this medium to connect for illegal sexual purposes," he continued. "That's exactly what we plan to do."
Fifty-one suspects were arrested this week for various crimes, including prostitution, drug possession, identity theft, weapons charges and attempted murder.
Prostitution: 17 arrests
Possession of marijuana & marijuana for sale: 9 arrests
Warrants: 4 arrests
Prescription drug fraud: 4 arrests
Possession of narcotic drugs: 3 arrests
Possession of dangerous drugs: 3 arrests
Control of criminal enterprise (pimp): 2 arrests
Identity theft: 2 arrests
Assist/criminal street gang: 2 arrests
Attempted murder: 1 arrest
Probation violation: 1 arrest
Driving on suspended license: 1 arrest
Misconduct involving weapons: 1 arrest
ICE hold: 1 arrest
Approximately $20,000 in cash and about 65 pounds of marijuana were seized during the operation.