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Centre County is a county of approximately 163,000 residents in the central Pennsylvania. Its county seat is Bellefonte, PA. Centre County comprises the State College, PA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the communities and unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates has resulted in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking. For example, in 2019, a the Centre County police arrested a young woman alongside a 41-year-old Newark man, for prostitution-related offenses resulting from a joint Patton Township, Ferguson Township, and State College police investigation. The women had allegedly communicated with an undercover online and arranged to meet at a local hotel. Upon her arrival, the 41-year-old man circled the hotel “looking for police activity.” One he gave the woman an “all clear” call, she invited the undercover officer into the hotel room where she and the sex trafficker were arrested by Centre County police. The sex trafficker was charged with one count of promoting prostitution by transporting a person within the Commonwealth with intent to promote the engaging in prostitution by that person; one count of prostitution; and one count of driving while operating privilege is suspended or revoked. The woman was charged with one count of prostitution and one count of possessing a small amount of marijuana for personal use.
Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. To identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, the Centre County Sheriff’s Office has conducted web-based reverse sting operations. For example, in May 2019, a Lewistown man pleaded not guilty to criminal solicitation and patronizing prostitution, according to the Centre County Assistant District Attorney. The man was charged in March after confessing to police he paid more than $100 in exchange for sex with a prostituted woman, court documents indicated. He admitted to law enforcement officials from both the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and State College Police Department that he had responded to an online advertisement and made arrangements to meet two girls on Jan. 31 at a motel on South Atherton Street. He told police he “paid one of the women $140 to engage in sex with him, that he was quoted $160 for one hour and $300 for both girls and that he met girls like this ‘infrequently.'” Documents indicate police and the attorney general’s office were conducting a joint investigation into a sex trafficking/prostitution operation after receiving a tip from Brookville Police Department during the department’s own prostitution investigation. Managers of the motel confirmed that the prostituted women reserved a room on Dec. 29, 2018, and were scheduled to check out on February 4, 2019. The defendant, as well as two men from State College, were observed entering and exiting the room the women had rented during the agencies’ surveillance in late January 2019. According to court documents, the two men from State College were charged in connection to the investigation. The sex buyer’s identity and image were included in reports by local media outlets.
Sex buyers have also been arrested as a result of alternative investigations and residential reports to local law enforcement. For example, In 2017, a 22-year-old Centre County 911 dispatcher was arrested on numerous felony charges stemming from an investigation that allegedly started with the dispatcher soliciting sex from a prostituted woman at a State College motel. According to separate affidavits filed by State College police, based on information received, officers set up surveillance detail on November 9, 2017, targeting prostitution activities at a South Atherton Street motel. On the same day, officers reportedly observed a man, later identified as the 22-year-old Centre County 911 dispatcher entering the motel room of a known prostituted woman. The officer in question was stopped by police shortly after he left the motel room. He allegedly admitted to responding to an escort advertisement and made arrangements to meet the woman via text messages, saying he paid $100 to talk to her before leaving. The offender’s cellphone was taken by officers as evidence which police learned had been wiped prior to being seized. In late November 2017, a report containing the officer in question’s access into the criminal records management system was generated at the request of the Centre County Emergency Communication Center. The report, along with information from the center director, allegedly revealed the offender had worked eight shifts between Nov. 9-19, 2017, and had accessed the management system to conduct searches of his name, phone number and all supplemental records involving his case. According to police,
“[The officer in question] tracked every aspect of the case in which he was a suspect.”
Police said that standard operating procedures for the communication center dispatchers prohibit them from unauthorized access into any system protected by the Criminal History Record Information act of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. The offender was arraigned before District Judge Carmine Prestia in early December 2017, according to court documents, and was charged with eight felony counts of unlawful use of a computer, eight misdemeanor counts of unlawfully accessing stored communications and misdemeanor charges of tampering with evidence and patronizing prostitutes. Unsecured bail was set at $25,000. His identity and image were included in reports by local media outlets.
In the Spring of 2018, a report was released by the Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. The report presented county-level data on arrests for purchasing sex in Pennsylvania (the state has separate statutes for sex buyers versus prostituted persons) during calendar year 2017. The 10 counties that the report focused on were: Adams, Beaver, Bradford, Centre, Franklin, Lebanon, McKean, Mercer, Monroe, and Northampton.
The report’s data comes from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and during 2017, there were four arrests in Centre County that were charged under the statute for purchasing sex (18 Pa.C.S. § 5902(e)). It is important to note that there may have been larger numbers of sex buyer arrests, since some cities and counties choose to handle such cases by issuing civil citations for violating local prostitution ordinances rather than charging with violating state criminal law.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Cameras, Identity Disclosure:
- http://www.lewistownsentinel.com/news/horner-pleads-not-guilty-to-criminal-solicitation-charges/ (2019)
- https://www.statecollege.com/3-men-charged-following-prostitution-investigation-in-state-college (2019)
- Three men face charges after prostitution investigation (2019)
- https://wjactv.com/news/3-men-charged-for-patronizing-prostitutes-in-state-college-police-say (2019)
- http://www.statecollege.com/3-men-charged-following-prostitution-investigation-in-state-college (2019)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
- A 911 dispatcher was suspected of patronizing a prostitute: He allegedly used his job to track his own case (2017)
- https://www.centredaily.com/news/local/article (2017)
- 911 dispatcher charged with unlawful records access (2017)
- https://cseinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-report-final-B-2.pdf (2018)
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- http://www.statecollege.com/news/i-went-undercover-as-a-penn-state-sugar-baby (2015)
- https://www.statecollegepa.us/2616/CrimeReports (2016)
- https://www.centredaily.com/news/local/crime/article (2019)
- https://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/2-people-facing-prostitution-charges-in-state-college/ (2019)
- https://cseinstitute.org/two-face-prostitution-charges-in-centre-county/ (2019)
- Court of Common Pleas – Sex Trafficking Case (2019)