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Martinsburg is a city of approximately 19,000 residents, located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia near Hagerstown, Maryland. Prostitution activity has been well-documented in the city, surrounding communities, and in other areas of the county. This activity, and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are sex trafficking and illicit drug abuse. For example, in January, 2019, a Martinsburg, man, who used heroin as a means to control numerous women he trafficked as part of a commercial prostitution ring that operated in the Western District of Virginia, was convicted this week following a jury trial in U.S. District Court. The man was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, one count of interstate transportation for prostitution, one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, one count of distribution of fentanyl resulting in serious bodily injury, and one count of evidence tampering, following a six-day jury trial.
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. For example, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department has run several undercover web-based reverse stings using decoy ads posted online. “Confidential informants” then arrange to meet the sex buyers who respond at a local hotel. Four men were arrested in this fashion in both 2011 and 2012. In the 2012 operation, police received over 20 calls in five hours in response to the online advertisement. The names, ages, and hometowns of arrestees were reported in the news.
Street-level reverse stings are also conducted on a routine basis, led by the Martinsburg Police Department. For example, in March 2016, media outlets announced the arrests of two men after they attempted to purchase sex from an undercover police informant in the city. Following their arrests, the men’s identities were publicized in the press. The Hagerstown Herald-Mail also indicated that a total of eight sex buyers had been arrested by the MPD’s anti-prostitution details in February and March 2016 alone, though they only disclosed identifying information about the two aforementioned offenders.
In July 2018, five men were arrested and charged with solicitation of prostitution in a sting that targeted the Winchester Avenue area of the city, the Martinsburg Police Department announced. The photos, names, and ages of all the arrested sex buyers were included in news releases. The arrests were made using “a female who cooperated with police” to conduct the targeted enforcement operation. The woman was monitored visually as well as with an audio GPS transmitter. During the enforcement operation, the woman walked into the targeted area and was approached by various male suspects in vehicles. In each case, the woman would get into the suspect’s vehicle and have a conversation with them. Once they agreed to pay her for a sexual act, the Martinsburg police officers intervened and made the arrests. The arrests were all made on Winchester Avenue, which was targeted due to citizen complaints and the large-scale issue of prostitution in the area.
- Berkeley County Sheriff Department
- Martinsburg Police Department
Street-Level Reverse Stings with Identity Disclosure:
- “Martinsburg Man Charged with Solicitation,” Hagerstown Herald-Mail, May 8 2011.
- “Two Men Face Prostitution Charges in W. Va.,” Hagerstown Herald-Mail, March 25 2016.
- https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/five-charged-in-solicitation-of-prostitution-sting-in-martinsburg (2018)
- http://www.journal-news.net/police-5-arrested-for-soliciting-prostitution/ (2018)
Web-Based Reverse Stings with Identity Disclosure:
- “Four Men Charged with Soliciting for Prostitution in Martinsburg,” Hagerstown Herald-Mail, November 18 2011.
- “Police Arrest Four Men, Including Attorney in Prostitution Sting,” Hagerstown Herald-Mail, February 10 2012.
- “Attorney Could Have Solicitation Charge Dropped,” Hagerstown Herald-Mail, June 20 2012.
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:
- “Police Bust Martinsburg Prostitution Ring,” Charleston Daily Mail, July 7 2003.
- “Feds May File Federal Charges in Hotel Prostitution Ring,” Charleston Daily Mail, July 25 2003.
- “Martinsburg Woman Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion,” Charleston Daily Mail, May 29 2004.
- “Men Found Guilty of Running Prostitution Ring,” Charleston Daily Mail, April 22 2005.
- “Sex Ring Case Heard,” Martinsburg Journal, August 6 2008.
- “Man Gets Probation for Ties to Sex Ring,” Martinsburg Journal, October 21 2008.
- “Stiffer Prostitution Penalties Sought,” Martinsburg Journal, February 2 2012.
- https://www.justice.gov/martinsburg-WV-man-convicted-sex-trafficking-distributing-fatal-dose (2019)
- https://www.journal-news.net/martinsburg-woman-charged-with-prostitution-2nd-degree (2019)
- https://wchstv.com/west-virginia-woman-pleads-guilty-to-trafficking-teenager (2023)
- https://www.wboy.com/west-virginia-woman-admits-to-trafficking-teenager/ (2023)
- https://www.whsv.com/west-virginia-woman-admits-trafficking-teenager/ (2023)
- https://www.lootpress.com/martinsburg-woman-admits-to-sex-trafficking-a-teenager/ (2023)