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Police target prostitution in East County

Seven nabbed during prostitution sting at Troutdale motel


by: MULTNOMAH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE - Joseph G. Petraby: MULTNOMAH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE - Maubricio Mendez-LopezAn undercover sting operation targeting pimps, prostitutes and their customers led to the arrest of seven people at a Troutdale motel Thursday night, Dec. 19, police said.

Many of the suspects responded to ads placed by undercover detectives on prostitution-related websites, police said.

The sting took place at Motel 6 in Troutdale near Exit 17 on Interstate 84.

Joseph G. Petra, 22, was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center on 10 counts of promoting prostitution, officials said.

Maubricio Mendez-Lopez, 33, also was booked into the detention center on one count of patronizing a prostitute.

Police have not released the identities of the other five people arrested.

Sgt. Carey Kaer, spokesman at the Troutdale Police, said the arrests were the result of multiple law enforcement agencies teaming up to deal with prostitution and human trafficking within the metro area, an issue that has drawn more recent attention from the community.

“Young women and young men on the streets are being pulled into this unfortunate issue, and it has become a big topic for law enforcement,” Kaer said.

Agencies involved with the Dec. 19 sting included the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force, Portland Police Bureau, Troutdale Police Department Prostitution Coordination Team, East Metro Gang Enforcement Team, and the Multnomah District Attorney’s Office.

Kaer said these kind of missions will be ongoing throughout Portland and East County.

Motel 6 in Troutdale happened to be the place chosen for East County, Kaer said.

To no one’s surprise, police say it already attracts the sort of illegal activity one might expect of an inexpensive motel.

“We have a lot of issues down there as far as drug-related (offenses), assaults and prostitution,” Kaer said. “A lot of it is because you can get a motel room for $39.”

Kaer said the management at Motel 6 was “cooperative” and “supportive” with the police as they conducted the operation.

“It’s not good for their business either,” he said.

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Kelley Cloyd said, “Prostitution-related activities happen pretty much everywhere.”

She said she wouldn’t want this Motel 6 to get a bad reputation for prostitution.

To gauge how much prostitution and sex trafficking is happening in East County, Cloyd said police are trying to pinpoint how pimps, prostitutes and their customers communicate and where they meet up.

“There’s a way these people come in contact regardless of where they’re located,” Kaer said.”The johns seeking prostitution are going to find prostitutes, and they are going to go wherever they have to go to meet them.”

They communicate in different fashions, he said — by phone, online or through “secret” advertisements.

“Pimps typically are involved in posting ads online,” Cloyd said. “We are seeing a lot of prostitution activity going on certain websites known for advertising prostitution-related activity.”

Traffickers tend to pick up girls who have vulnerability and insecurity, Cloyd said. Many are underage, and often young men who attended school with them will pimp the girls.

Sex buyers find girls online through those websites, Cloyd said.

“Without buyers involved, there would be no market for pimps, and no reason for pimps to send girls out to work,” she said.

Cloyd, who also is part of the district attorney office’s Human Trafficking Team, believes the sting in Troutdale was successful.

“The operation itself was a success because officers made arrests for people either looking to buy sex, selling sex or even people who were promoting the sale of sex,” Cloyd said.

As far as she knows, the prostitutes were women and the buyers were men. “There were no underage girls that I am aware of,” she said.

After prostitutes are arrested, they enter the community court program, Cloyd said. Prostitutes who plea guilty are given an option.

If they stay arrest-free for six months and go to a LifeWorks Northwest treatment program, as well as a one-day course, they can withdraw their guilty plea and walk away without a conviction.

“It gives them the chance to walk away without the stigma,” Cloyd said.

“The big thing with prostitution,” she said, “is it’s viewed as a victimless crime in society.

“Most girls have a pimp causing them to engage in this behavior or had a pimp who got them into this life. And now those girls don’t have any other tools to really get out of the life. They don’t know anything else,” Cloyd said.

LifeWorks Northwest, a nonprofit mental health and addiction agency, has a treatment program called New Options for Women.

“They only deal with women who have worked in the sex industry,” Cloyd said.

The program provides women with treatment for mental health and substance abuse. It also helps women get identification cards and apply for the Oregon health plan, she said.

If prostitutes don’t make it six months and get caught again or have prior convictions for prostitution, Cloyd said they can be put on probation for up to a year and a half and require heavier treatment.

“Our goal is to rehabilitate and move these poor women into (being) productive members of society, versus just throwing them in jail,” Cloyd said. “We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem.”

The sex buyers get a similar deal. If they have no prior prostitution-related charges, stay arrest free for six months and go through an educational program for johns, they get a dismissal, Cloyd said. If they get caught again, they can be put on probation and are subject to jail time if they violate terms of their probation, she said.

Those charged with promoting prostitution go through regular court, where taking advantage of women is treated as a felony. If convicted, the crime also is registered as a sex offense.