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MCSO Busts Backpage.com Prostitution Ring, 51 Arrested

Maricopa County sheriff's detectives got lucky. While conducting surveillance of an East Valley hotel for alleged drug trafficking, detectives busted a large-scale prostitution ring that was previously unknown to them, AZfamily.com reports.

In all, 51 arrests were made for prostitution, drug possession, identity theft, attempted murder, and other crimes. The officers also seized $20,000 in cash and around 65 pounds of pot.

Detectives first discovered that the Inn Suites Hotel was the hub of an alleged prostitution ring when they confronted a hotel guest who admitted he had just left the room of a prostitute. The man told detectives that he found out about the prostitute from Backpage.com, which is owned by Phoenix-based Village Voice Media group.

The website and its parent company have been under increasing pressure from law enforcement agencies in recent years. "Sex trade advertising is apparently a big revenue generator for the Village Voice Media group, making it unlikely the corporate owners would suspend accepting that kind of business," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a press release.

According to authorities, nearly all of the prostitutes operating out of the hotel had been advertising their "escort services" on Backpage.com. Undercover officers contacted the women through the site and arranged to meet them at different motels. When the women requested money in exchange for sex, they were arrested.

Under Arizona's criminal code, prostitution is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, the suspects charged with prostitution will probably face 15 days in jail, without the possibility of parole or a suspended sentence.

On the other hand, any person who takes money from a prostitute, manages a prostitute, or encourages prostitution is guilty of the more serious crime of pandering. It's a Class 5 felony and is punishable by up to four years in prison.

According to authorities, the Inn Suites Hotel's management and its owners were completely unaware that the hotel was being used for prostitution.

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