Thurston County, WA

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

Thurston County, Washington is located roughly 30 miles south of Seattle, past Tacoma, at the southern end of Puget Sound and along the Interstate 5 corridor.  The county is home to the State Capitol city of Olympia, and includes smaller cities such as Tumwater and small towns and unincorporated areas.  Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of the county.  This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious problems associated with commercial sex in the area include child sex trafficking. Examples include the following: In 2008, Tumwater police raided a suspected brothel, arresting five women ages 19 to 34, after two of the women agreed to have intercourse and perform other sex acts with an undercover officer in exchange for $440. The suspect was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of leading organized crime, and forwarded the case to the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.  During the four-month investigation, Tumwater police and the Washington State Patrol conducted video surveillance of men going in and out of the apartment for short periods. In March 2012 two women were arrested for prostitution while working at a Foot Massage business on Martin Way (they entered not guilty pleas in Thurston County District Court).  In November 2014, two men were arrested in Tumwater for trafficking two runaways, according to the Washington State Patrol.  A 19-year-old Olympia man and a 25-year-old male transient were arrested and held in the Thurston County Jail for third-degree child rape and first-degree promoting prostitution.  Detectives from the Washington State Patrol Missing and Exploited Children’s Task Force began investigating the two men after another state agency reported that two runaways were being trafficked for sex.  Detectives found one of the runaways, a 15-year-old girl, who said that the suspects had repeatedly sexually assaulted her, and that one of the suspects was trying to “pimp her out.” Undercover detectives found and arrested the two suspects in Tumwater and also found another 16-year-old runaway, who corroborated the first victim’s statement.

In March 2017, law enforcement officers arrested six people for running an prostitution ring that operated out of hotels or apartments in Kent, Bellevue, Renton, Tukwila, Federal Way, Seattle and several other cities in the Puget Sound region of Washington.  Search warrants were served at more than 30 locations as part of an investigation into an organized crime ring involved with prostitution, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office media release. All face charges of conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution.  Four of the six people arrested were from Seattle, one was from Renton and one from New York.  The defendants rented apartments and hotels for prostitution, advertised on backpage.com and other websites and cycled providers of commercials sex through locations across the West. According to the complaint, federal and local law enforcement partners worked jointly to investigate a criminal ring making hundreds of thousands of dollars through the prostitution of Asian victims. In partnership with the FBI, the King County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Bellevue, Redmond, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila identified numerous brothel locations through their analysis of backpage.com, cellphone and other business records.  The joint team of local and federal investigators then conducted surveillance of the ring’s activities. Law enforcement determined that multiple locations were linked to the organization via ads placed with websites. The investigation revealed that the same internet protocol (IP) addresses were used for placing many of the ads, and phone numbers associated with the ads were linked as well – in some instances to call centers in New York and Washington, D.C. In related cases, law enforcement agencies followed up on citizen complaints about apartments being operated as prostitution locations and confirmed that the organization was in fact conducting prostitution in those locations. The investigation revealed that the apparent leader of the operation spent approximately $100,000 to increase the traffic to her ads on the backpage.com site. Other defendants played different roles – renting apartments, transporting sex workers to various locations, purchasing supplies, collecting money from the prostituted persons and placing ads.

Key Partners

  • Thurston County Sheriff’s Office
  • Olympia Police Department
  • Tumwater Police Department
  • Lacey Police Department
  • Shelton Police Department
  • Washington State Patrol
    • Missing and Exploited Children’s Task Force
  • Thurston County District Court
  • Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
  • U.S. Attorneys’ Offices
    • Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington
  • Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.)

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Shaming:

Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:

  • https://slog.thestranger.com/2008/04/brothel_busted_near_olympia (2008)
  • https://www.theolympian.com/news/local/crime/article25311205.html (2012)
  • https://www.theolympian.com/news/local/crime/article26071624.html (2014)
  • https://www.theolympian.com/news/local/crime/article26092216.html (2014)
  • http://www.kentreporter.com/news/police-arrest-six-people-for-running-prostitution-ring/ (2017)
State Washington
Type County
Population 269536
Location
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