Mesa is a city of approximately 440,000 residents, located 20 miles east of Phoenix in Maricopa County, Arizona. Among the problems associated with local prostitution have been the serial killing and serial rapes targeting trafficked girls and women involved in prostitution. For example, in 2011 a man was found guilty of raping two women offering prostitution, and murdering two others in Mesa. At least two cases of child sex trafficking have also been documented in the city. Prostitution and sex trafficking are regional problems, with numerous cases occurring in the nearby cities of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and throughout Maricopa County.
In an effort to reduce local demand for commercial sex, the Mesa Police Department and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office began conducting reverse stings in the city in 1982. Spurred by complaints from community members of reported prostitution in some of the city’s massage parlors, the Mesa Police Department conducted several reverse sting operations within massage parlors between 2003 and 2010. In these efforts, officers have arrested prostituted women and replaced them with undercover female officers. As men arrive for their “appointments” and offer money to the decoy in exchange for sexual services, they are arrested by police.
While the names and identities of offenders up until 2013 were not typically made public, arrestees could be subject to SOAP (or Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) orders, barring them from entering areas of the city known for prostitution activity. The neighboring city of Tempe currently imposes “order-out” restrictions on individuals repeatedly arrested for prostitution. Much like SOAP orders, city police may order a person to stay out of a specified place as a condition of his or her probation. Should he/she return to the area, he/she may be arrested and jailed for up to 30 days.
In December 2014, MPD officers conducted a web-based reverse sting targeting individuals attempting to purchase sex from minors. Police placed a decoy advertisement to a website known for commercial sex sales and arranged to meet the men who responded. Five johns were arrested as a result; all of the men’s names, arrest photos and other identifying information were released to the public. Each was charged with one count of child prostitution. A similar web-based reversal in April 2015 netted five johns after they attempted to buy sex from MPD undercover officers posing as “teenage prostitutes.” All of the offenders’ names and arrest photos were again publicized in press. In 2016, a web-based operation resulted in the arrest of a man attempting to buy sex with a child.
In March 2018, 21 men were arrested as part of a Mesa police prostitution sting. Operation Rocket used officers and undercover detectives from various units within the department, who placed ads on websites commonly used by people seeking illegal sex acts. The men either solicited or brokered deals for various sex acts and were arrested when they showed up to the agreed-upon location, the department said. The men, whose photos and identities were publicly released, ranged in age from 28 to 67 years old and all face charges related to soliciting prostitution.
In December 2018, Mesa police detectives posed as 16-year-old girls and advertised sexual services online. Among the five men arrested was a Catholic priest assigned to an east Mesa church. Police said the men came to a Mesa motel at a predetermined time to purchase sex; all of the men agreed to buy sex even after being told the person they would purchase sex with was a minor, and they were then arrested and charged with child prostitution.
In July, 2019, twenty-five people in the Valley were arrested on child sex-trafficking charges in a multi-agency sting operation called Operation Summer Shield. The arrests came after an undercover operation by the Tempe Police Department, the Mesa Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. The men arrested ranged in age from 19 to 63 years old, and they faced charges that include child sex trafficking, sexual abuse, luring of a minor for sexual exploitation, attempted sex conduct with a minor, furnishing harmful materials to a minor and possession of dangerous drugs. Undercover officers and detectives had placed ads on various websites and apps used by people interested in illegal sex acts with children. The suspects are named and pictured on a Tempe Police Department News release.
- Mesa Police Department
- Mesa City Prosecutor’s Office
- Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office
- John Arrests with Shaming:
- Reverse Stings (Mode Unclear) with Shaming:
- Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “Bogus Escort Service Snags 63 in the Valley”, Prescott Courier, November 22 1982.
- “Tapes Made of ‘Customers’ at Bogus Escort Service, Phoenix Police Say”, Kingman Daily Miner, November 22 1982.
- “Prostitution Sting Nabs 72; Deputies Arrest Women, Clients Countywide”, Arizona Republic, November 14 2003.
- “Police Arrest 19 Men in Mesa Prostitution Sting”, East Valley Tribune, November 13 2004.
- “Child-Sex Trafficking a Problem in US, Mesa”, East Valley Tribune, December 29 2012.
- “Mesa PD Arrests Four in Child Prostitution Sting”, East Valley Tribune, June 3 2014.
- “Operation Grey Street; 4 Arrested in Mesa Prostitution Sting Involving Underage Females, Police Say”, East Mesa Independent, June 11 2014.
- “FBI Nabs 3, Rescues 4 in Prostitution Sting”, Yuma Sun, June 24 2014.
- Web-Based Reverse Stings with Shaming:
- “Mesa Priest among 5 Men Arrested in a Prostitution Sting,” NBC/KVOA-TV 4, December 12 2014.
- “Mesa Police Arrest 5 in Undercover Sex Sting,” FOX/KSAZ-TV 10, December 12 2014.
- “5 Men Arrested in Mesa Prostitution Sting,” Arizona Republic, April 3 2015.
- “Mesa Uses Undercover Operations to Prevent Child Sex Trafficking,” East Valley Tribune, April 19 2015.
- “50-Year-Old Mesa Man Arrested on Child Prostitution Claim,” Arizona Republic, February 19 2016.
- “Mesa Police Arrest 21 Men in Prostitution Sting.” Azcentral.com, March 28, 2018
- “21 men arrested in Mesa prostitution bust.” abc15.com, March 28, 2018.
- https://www.11alive.com/article/news/crime/child-sex-sting-in-arizona-leads-to-24-arrests-over-six-days (2018)
- http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/local/mesa/mesa-priest-among-men-arrested-in-a-prostitution-sting (2018)
- https://www.cookcountysheriff.org/national-sex-buyer-sting-nets-more-than-390-arrests/ (2019)
- Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Teenagers Tell of Prostitution”, Prescott Evening Courier, April 8 1952.
- “Teen Prostitution Ring Busted, Police Say: 15-Year-Old Led Officers to California Man, 3 Other Girls”, East Valley Tribune, January 3 2008.
- “Child Sex Trafficker Sentenced to Almost 22 Years”, KTVK-TV 3, August 15 2009.
- “Man Sentenced after Forcing Teen into Prostitution in Mesa”, KTVK-TV 3, August 15 2009.
- “Calif. Man Sentenced in Teen Prostitution Case”, East Valley Tribune, October 7 2011.
- “FBI Nabs 3, Rescues 4 in Prostitution Sting”, Yuma Sun, June 24 2014.
- Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Cops Get Naked on the Job”, Kingman Daily Miner, November 25 1999.
- “Woman Sold Sex via Net, Court Says: Craigslist Used to Draw Customers to Mesa Hotel Room”, East Valley Tribune, December 21 2006.
- “Massage Parlor Magnet: Mesa Fights Reputation for Attracting Seedy Operators, Looks at Tightening Its City Code”, East Valley Tribune, July 26 2009.
- “Mesa to Target Massage Parlors for Prostitution”, Arizona Republic, July 29 2009.
- “Massage Parlor Crackdown Nets 20 Arrests”, East Valley Tribune, October 8 2009.
- “Tougher Massage Rules on Track Despite Delay”, East Valley Tribune, November 17 2009.
- “Massage Businesses Vanish during Crackdown: Mesa Police Say They Are Finding Locked Doors at Some Locations”, East Valley Tribune, November 22 2009.
- “Mesa Looking to Crack Down on Main Motels: Councilman Wants Prostitution, Drugs Out of Neighborhoods”, East Valley Tribune, March 12 2010.
- “Mesa Home, Massage Business Searched in Scottsdale Prostitution Investigation”, East Valley Tribune, May 19 2010.
- “Mesa Wants to Tighten Ordinance on Massage Businesses”, East Valley Tribune, December 7 2010.
- “Mesa Council OKs Tougher Massage Regulations”, East Valley Tribune, March 9 2011.
- “Mesa Massage Parlor Busted for Prostitution”, KTVK-TV 3, September 20 2013.
- Child Endangerment:
- “Woman with Child Faces Prostitution Charge”, East Valley Tribune, September 3 2009.
- Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Mesa Police Say 2 Unsolved Killings, Sexual Assault Linked”, Casa Grande Dispatch, May 6 2008.
- “Co-Workers Call Murder Suspect Quiet, Mysterious”, Arizona Republic, May 15 2008.
- “Suspect in Serial Slayings, Rapes Identified: Mesa Business Owner, 36, Jailed without Bail”, East Valley Tribune, May 16 2008.
- “The Many Faces of a Suspected Serial Predator”, East Valley Tribune, May 29 2008.
- “Mesa Man Gets Death in Killings of Prostitutes”, Arizona Republic, October 8 2011.
- “AZ Death Row Inmate’s Convictions, Sentences Upheld”, CBS/KPHO-TV 5, July 31 2013.