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Lackawanna County is a U.S. county in the northeastern portion of Pennsylvania of approximately 216,000 residents. Its largest city and county seat is Scranton, PA. Local law enforcement has reported problems related to prostitution for several decades, and residents have complained to police about prostitution in certain neighborhoods. International and domestic sex trafficking networks and rings have also operated in the county since at least the 1980s, if not earlier. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Scranton was identified as a stop on an interstate prostitution/sex trafficking circuit that ran through central Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Reports of violence and targeted homicide against prostitution persons has been reported to occur as a result of commercial sex transactions in the county. Among the more serious issues associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in November 2016, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that a 28-year-old man pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to sex trafficking of a minor. According to United States Attorney, the defendant admitted to assisting others in transporting and maintaining a minor for the purpose of having the minor engage in prostitution during February through May 2014. The sex trafficking activity involved placing photographs of the minor along with ads in the adult “escort” section of a website known for prostitution and sex trafficking, renting motel rooms in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties where the prostitution activities occurred, providing drugs to the minor, purchasing and providing condoms for the minor to use during commercial sex acts, and serving as security or “bodyguards” at the motels where the commercial sex acts took place. An indictment by a federal grand jury in April 2015, was a result of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations and the Pennsylvania State Police. Four persons were charged and eventually pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor.
In response to concerns about prostitution and sex trafficking, police have targeted consumer-level demand for commercial sex. The Lackawanna County Sheriff’s Office and the Scranton Police Department have conducted street-level reverse stings since 1988, regularly releasing the identities of arrested sex buyers to the public. For example, in 1989, the SPD with assistance from the Pennsylvania State Police, the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies conducted a two-part street-level reverse sting operation that resulted in the arrest of 29 male sex buyers for soliciting prostitution. In addition to arrests, one of the arrested offenders who was suspected of being a sex trafficker/pimp had his vehicle seized by law enforcement. The identities of arrested offenders were included in reports by local media outlets.
In addition to street-level reverse stings, web-based reverse stings have been conducted in the county. For example, in 2015, the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office, along with police officers and detectives from Lackawanna County and postal inspectors, conducted the sting that lead to the arrests of 16 people accused of either viewing child sex abuse material (CASM) or attempting to sexually abuse children in exchange for money.
In September 2021, officers from the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Hazleton Police Department conducted a similar web-based reverse sting operation targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors online in exchange for money. As a result of the investigation, five men were arrested and transported to the Lackawanna County Jail. Their identities, photos, ages, and hometowns were included in reports by local media outlets.
Sex buyers have also been arrested as the result of alternative investigations and residential complaints to local law enforcement. For example, in August 2022, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) announced the arrest of a 48-year-old PSP Trooper for his alleged involvement in illegal activity occurring at Sinners Swing Gentlemen’s Club in Mayfield Borough, Lackawanna County. According to reports, the PSP Trooper was a 13-year veteran of PSP and was assigned to the Bureau of Gaming Enforcement, Pocono Downs Wilkes-Barre Office. In addition to the former PSP Trooper, three other individuals were arrested as the result of a 17-month investigation by members of the Pennsylvania State Police, in partnership with prosecutors from the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. The investigation was initiated in November 2018, when the PSP Bureau of Criminal Investigation received information from PSP Troop R that the club owner and his business partner, an active-duty member of PSP, owned and operated Sinners Swing Gentlemen’s Club. Initial allegations indicated the club was being used to promote illicit activity. Investigators developed and presented evidence to the statewide investigating grand jury alleging the former PSP Trooper, the club owner and other were operating a corrupt organization involving prostitution, gambling, and money laundering. According to reports, the former PSP Trooper had been on restricted duty during the investigation and is currently suspended without pay pending resolution of the charges against him.
In August 2022, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) announced criminal charges against a Lackawanna County defense attorney for allegedly “promoting prostitution against at least four female victims from 2018-2022”. The defendant also served as an Assistant District Attorney for the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office from 2005-2011. The man allegedly systematically exploited the vulnerabilities of his victims, who struggled with addiction and had a history of being sexually abused. The former DA allegedly turned himself in to police after allegations began to surface.
The investigation found that the man sexually violated four women at various locations in and around Lackawanna County while he was representing them, their significant others, or family members. All four victims were subjected to sexual exploitation, and the lawyer tethered his performance as their counsel to a demand for “sexual services” from them or in exchange for payment. In most cases, he would initiate contact by requesting nude photographs or worn undergarments in lieu of payment for legal services. He would then transition into requesting sex acts in exchange for legal services or payment. One victim told investigators that the defendant knew she was in recovery, in jeopardy of incarceration, and struggling financially. With that knowledge, he offered her $500.00 in exchange for sex, and did not bill the victim for the legal services rendered during that period. While representing another woman, he stated that he would take $500.00 off her bill if she had sex with him. Another victim struggling as a single mother had a brother who was facing criminal charges, and the attorney took him on as a client. While working on his case, he requested nude photographs and asked for sexual intercourse in return for payment. Following each act of intercourse, he handed her $500.00 in cash, “The victim stated that she felt ashamed and only relented after feeling as though there was no escape, knowing that he was also aware of her dire financial situation.”
Investigators reviewed evidence that was recovered during a forensic examination of the man’s cellular phone, which contained hundreds of nude or sexually explicit images of the female clients/victims. The case was referred to the Office of Attorney General by the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office and was prosecuted by Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Dye. He was arrested on four counts of promoting prostitution, a felony of the third degree, for his crimes committed against these four victims. His identity and image were included in reports by local media outlets.
In the Spring of 2016 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 years 2014-2015. The report’s data comes from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, and during 2014-2015 there were 11 arrests in Lackawanna 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.
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Web-Based Reverse Stings, Auto-Seizure, Identity Disclosure:
- City police will begin releasing names of ‘johns’ (1988)
- ‘Clean Streets’ sweeps include arrest of 29 men (1989)
- Cops pinch dozen in weekend sting (1989)
- “Ten Men Arrested in Sex Sting; South Scranton Targeted for Prostitution”, Scranton Times-Tribune, June 25 2006.
- “Prostitution Sting Ends with Arrest for Felony”, Scranton Times-Tribune, March 31 2007.
- https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/philadelphia/press-releases/2012/lackawanna-county-man-pleads-guilty-to-attempted-internet-enticement-of-a-minor (2012)
- https://www.wnep.com/article/news/local/carbon-county/child-predator-sting-in-lackawanna-county/ (2015)
- Four charged with child sex crimes in sting operation (2021)
- https://www.thetimes-tribune.com/news/crime-emergencies/fifth-man-charged-in-sting-of-child-sex-crimes/article (2021)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
- Vice probe extends past county lines-90 hookers, ‘johns’ are subpoenaed (1982)
- http://cseinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CSE-Institute-Report-on-CSE-in-Pennsylvania.pdf (2016)
- State Trooper Among Four Arrested On Gambling, Prostitution, Other Charges In Lackawanna County (2021)
- https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/lackawanna-county-defense-attorney-and-former-prosecutor-charged-sexual-misconduct/ (2022)
- https://www.tricountyindependent.com/story/news/crime/2022/08/10/lackawanna-lawyer-arrested-prostitution-abusing-clients-scranton-assistant-district-attorney/ (2022)
- https://www.wnep.com/article/news/local/lackawanna-county/lackawanna-county-attorney-charged-for-encouraging-prostitution-former-assistant-district-attorney/ (2022)
Local Sex Trafficking, Related Pornography, Extortion:
- “Sex a Prize in Bar Lottery”, Philadelphia Daily News, January 10 1983.
- “Feds Charge Massage Parlors”, Scranton Times-Tribune, May 18 2011.
- “Men Coerced Teens into Prostitution, Police Say”, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, October 11 2013.
- “Pittston Men Indicted on Child Sex Trafficking, Child Porn Charges”, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, December 3 2013.
- “Pittston Pair Hit with Federal Prostitution Indictment”, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, December 3 2013.
- “Police Blotter”, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, December 3 2013.
- “Scranton Man Charged with Sex Trafficking of Minor”, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, August 27 2014.
- “Scranton Man Charged with Sex Trafficking of a Minor”, Shippensburg News-Chronicle, September 12 2014.
- “Federal Grand Jury Indicts Two Scranton Men on Child Sex Trafficking Charges,” Scranton Times-Tribune, May 12 2015.
- “Five Charged with Prostitution Offenses at Area Motels,” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, July 14 2015.
- “Allentown Man Admits Forcing Women into Sex Trafficking Ring,” Allentown Morning Call, October 30 2015.
- https://www.neagle.com/news/20161110/man-found-guilty-of-sex-trafficking-15-year-old-girl (2016)
- https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/lackawanna-county-defense-attorney-and-former-prosecutor-charged-sexual-misconduct/ (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- 90 Subpoenas Issued-Crackdown Fouls Connections for Hooks on 4-City Circuit (1980)
- Scranton sent hookers packing (1983)
- Three arrested in city on prostitution charges (1986)
- “Scranton Police Find Alleged Prostitute High, in Labor”, Scranton Times-Tribune, August 17 2010.
- “Scranton Police: Woman Propositioned Off-Duty Officer”, Scranton Times-Tribune, May 12 2011.
- “Kingston Woman Accused of Propositioning Undercover Scranton Cop”, Scranton Times-Tribune, June 30 2011.
- “City Police Take in Two Alleged Prostitutes at Clarion Hotel”, Scranton Times-Tribune, December 9 2011.
- “South Side Prostitute Arrested After Undercover Sting”, Scranton Times-Tribune, July 20 2012.
- “Cops Bust Woman for Prostitution Downtown”, Scranton Times-Tribune, August 31 2012.
- “Woman Charged with Prostitution”, Scranton Times-Tribune, January 9 2013.
- “Five Plead Guilty in Prostitution Sting”, Scranton Times-Tribune, May 31 2014.
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Hearings Delayed for Suspects in Homicide; Arguments Center on Whether Three Accused in Death of Prostitute Should Have Joint Hearing or Three Separate Ones”, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 2 1997.
- 3 homicide suspects face more charges (1997)
- “Woman Who Partied with Slain Prostitute Testifies; Three Men Charged in the Killing Are Given Preliminary Hearing”, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, June 10 1997.
- “Couple Allegedly Beaten, Held Hostage after Craigslist Meeting”, ABC/WNEP-TV 16, April 24 2014.