Prostitution Crackdown In Las Vegas Is 'Just The Beginning' - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Prostitution Crackdown In Las Vegas Is 'Just The Beginning'

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Last weekend's prostitution crackdown by Metro officers is only the beginning, police say. In just the past few months, some parts of our community have been engulfed by waves of newly arrived prostitutes and pimps.

Police nabbed 185 suspects in the recent crackdown, but is that enough to make a dent?

Veteran vice detectives say prostitution is not a victimless crime, not merely an act involving consenting adults. Entire neighborhoods have been overrun by pimps and their working girls and residents live in fear. Some of the hookers are HIV-positive but are working anyway. Wherever there is a high concentration of streetwalkers, other types of crime and violence escalate.

Operation PIMP didn't end prostitution on our streets, but police say it's a beginning.

Who says Las Vegas isn't pedestrian friendly? On any given night along Tropicana Avenue, pairs of young gal-pals stroll leisurely back and forth on both sides of the street. The AM-PM gas station is a beehive of activity with seductively attired women consulting with male advisors.

Last Friday night, the patio tables at Tacos Mexico were packed with young men who seemed to know many of the female pedestrians. It was a similar scene on Fremont Street. But in another part of town, plans were being made for a total disruption of this seedy ballet.

A task force of officers from vice, narcotics, intelligence, and other departments was formed to carry out Operation PIMP, the largest anti-prostitution initiative by Metro in years. After a detailed briefing, the officers, dressed in street clothes, broke up into units, reviewed their battle plan, and then headed out to saturate prostitution hotspots.

The I-Team tagged along and listed by scanner as some officers played the role of customer. Others carried out surveillance while other teams moved in to make the arrests.

On a seedy stretch of Fremont Street, police busted not only the alleged hooker Karen Harris, but also her suspected pimp Antonio Ruffin and the man who allegedly paid Harris to perform a sex act in his vehicle -- lawyer and part-time judge Mark Peplowski.

As the arrests mounted through the night, the suspects were transported to South Central Command for processing. They weren't a happy bunch. The arrestees came in all colors, ages, shapes and sizes. And not all of them were women. Of the 185 busts, eight turned out to be men dressed as women. One was HIV-positive. Five were juveniles. Some were so frightened they hyperventilated. Others lost their lunch. Metro's Eric Kruse tried to keep things moving.

Metro Detective Eric Kruse said, "You know what you're being charged with Sammy? One charge of soliciting and you gotta do a blood test, right?"

After a brief interview, the women were loaded into vans for transport to jail where, for once, they had to be bailed out instead of released on their own recognizance. Metro's Curt Williams said the point was to make the pimps pay.

Metro Vice Lt. Williams said, "Not only do they lose money by not being out on the street, but the pimps have to forfeit money to get them out. We hope this will send a message."

That vow is welcome news to the businesses and residents on Tropicana who do not believe prostitution is a victimless crime. The presence of so many hookers, pimps, and drug dealers has frightened business customers away, and people who live there compare it to a war zone.

William Hobbs, a Tropicana Avenue resident, said, "My roommate is a female. She can't get out of her car without someone thinking she's a prostitute. Between the Arco gas station and Tacos Mexico, it's a total kill zone of drugs and prostitutes. It's horrible to walk from here to there. It's really scary."

How did it get so bad so quickly? Police say they've been handcuffed ever since the Nevada Supreme Court tossed out the county's loitering statute. Now that a new one is in place, Metro is ready to make life miserable for all of these new arrivals.

Metro Undersheriff Doug Gillespie said, "I think we got some people's attention but we have to stay on top of it because that attention span is short lived. We need to keep enforcing it and to be creative in our approaches. It's not a one time thing, and if they think it is, they will be sorely surprised."

The I-Team has learned that Metro Vice will be expanded next month with the addition of a new squad. This will allow the vice cops to target those other types of prostitution that have exploded of late, including massage parlors and even neighborhood brothels.

Friday night at 11, the I-Team will look at that part of the story and the question of whether there might be a secret bordello on your street.

Send your feedback to I-Team Reporter George Knapp at gknapp@klastv.com

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