Our criminal defense team of lawyers recently represented a young woman who was caught up in a sex sting in the state of Utah. The woman fell prey to a sting conducted in a massage parlor in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a criminal defense attorney I have represented dozens of clients busted in these types of stings in Utah over the years. This one, however, was unique. My client, who I we’ll call Suzie, was arrested for allegedly agreeing to provide an undercover cop with what vice squad members call a happy ending. Suzie was subsequently arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for sexual solicitation. What makes this case distinct from other cases handled by our criminal defense team in Utah is that the undercover cop disclosed, in his written report, that he initiated the unlawful contact (not in those words). He reports that he reached around Suzie and groped her buttocks, and disrobed himself, thereby displaying his genitals. According to the officer’s report, any alleged criminal conduct on Suzie’s part took place after the officer’s admitted inappropriate conduct.
In light of this cop’s revelations our criminal defense team challenged the conduct of the vice squad on every level. In the process of defending the case our defense team discovered that the prostitution vice squad operating in Salt Lake City has some very disturbing practices. Consider the following:
1. Prostitution stings are carried out under audio surveillance which the vice squad elects to not record.
2. The undercover officer in Suzie’s case testified under oath in one of our hearings that he is allowed to initiate touch anywhere on a massage therapists body except her genitals. He testified that he learned this from “on-the-job” training.
3. This group of Salt Lake undercover officers conducting sting operations enter massage parlors under fictitious names to protect their identity.
Utahns would be up in arms were these conditions publicly known. Of concern is the risk that a sting may go wrong as the undercover cop exposes himself in an illegal and lewd manner and the therapist does not yield to the officer’s sexual enticement. Perhaps worse, suppose the officer touches the therapist upon her buttocks or breasts and she does not yield to his enticement. How would one of these scenarios play out to a conclusion? The officer has obviously committed a serious crime against the therapist. Recall that this Salt Lake area vice squad has elected to not record the happenings that are under audio surveillance. Also, consider that the perpetrating undercover officer is operating under a fictitious name. What do you suppose would happen if the therapist, now victim, called 911 to report that some pervert just groped her and displayed his genitals? I know what they do to non-cops that engage in such conduct: I defend them against lewdness and sexual assault charges.
Undercover cops, however, are insulated from prosecution by the factors listed above. If an operation went bad, the victim would be calling in a report of a fictitiously-named person assaulting her. There would be no record of the incident with the vice squad (not recorded) and I highly doubt that vice cops would turn themselves, or their buddies in for such misconduct. If there were a risk of one of these undercover cops being detected for committing a sex crime on a massage therapist, think of the self-preservation incentive for him to lie about what really happened, and for his vice squad buddies to lie as well.
This issue is yet to come to a head since the sexual solicitation charge in Suzie’s case was dismissed. However, our criminal defense team is constantly on the lookout for similar cases so that we can pick up where we left off in exposing the unethical practices of such sex crime vice squads in Utah.