5 arrested in US sting at Marriott

Officials say operation targets child prostitution

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / February 21, 2009
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A guest at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf said she and her mother were on their way to their room after checking in shortly after midnight yesterday when they encountered a raucous scene in a sixth-floor hallway as some 17 FBI agents and plainclothes officers were struggling to arrest two kicking and screaming young women.

"It was a huge scene," said the guest, who asked not to be identified, adding that it was frightening to have to walk by a gauntlet of investigators to get to their room as one of the women screamed at the top of her lungs, then rolled around on the floor hyperventilating.

"We kept asking, 'What's going on?' " said the guest, adding that officers told her to "keep moving" and, "It's none of your business."

Yesterday, the FBI, Boston police, and State Police said they were at the hotel conducting an undercover investigation as part of "Operation Cross Country," a nationwide initiative of the US Justice Department aimed at cracking down on child prostitution.

All three agencies apologized for any inconvenience that may have been caused to the hotel and its guests.

"Generally, these things can be investigated and taken down quietly, but sometimes circumstances outside our control occur," said Russell Kleber, a spokesman for the FBI's Boston office, adding that the arrests were "aimed at combating sex trafficking of children."

The goal of the sweeps, being conducted in over 30 cities, is to target pimps, rescue juveniles, and gather intelligence, according to law enforcement officials.

The Boston sting led to the arrests of five women, ages 19 to 33, who allegedly showed up at the Marriott after agreeing to provide sex for up to $300 an hour to undercover officers. The officers had responded to advertisements posted on the Craigslist website, according to Boston police reports.

The first three women to show up were arrested outside the hotel, but police arrested the other two women in a hallway around 12:30 a.m. when one shoved the other in an apparent dispute over who should collect the $300 fee for promised sexual services, according to the police report.

"We greatly appreciate Marriott Long Wharf's cooperation and we work very hard to be as low-key as possible," said Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department. "In this case, in the last arrest of the night there was a safety issue, and the safety of our officers required intervention."

Driscoll said the Marriott's management was aware of the undercover operation and cooperated with police.

Calls to the Boston Marriott Long Wharf were not returned yesterday.

Roger Conner, a Marriott spokesman at the company's headquarters in Washington, said he was not aware of the sting and declined to comment until he could learn more from the hotel.

David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, said police don't want the public stopping to ask questions when they are trying to make arrests.

"Oftentimes when making an arrest or escorting a prisoner we just arrested, it's a tense situation," said Procopio, adding that officers ask bystanders to step away for their own safety.

The guest said she was shocked that there was an undercover prostitution sting at the Marriott She said the hotel apologized profusely after she complained that she didn't feel safe, moved her to another floor, and gave her a free room.

Driscoll said police choose locations for stings "based on numerous logistical factors."

Procopio said State Police participated in similar prostitution stings in the past week at other hotels and motels around the state as part of Operation Cross Country.

"Prostitution is a crime that crosses over different socioeconomic levels and therefore the enforcement of it must cross those boundaries as well," Procopio said.

The FBI has yet to release the results of its latest push, but has boasted a significant number of arrests during two prior nationwide sweeps conducted as part of Operation Cross Country, part of the Justice Department's Innocent Lost initiative.

Last October, the FBI announced that it arrested more than 600 adults and rescued 47 children, ages 13 to 17, as a result of a three-day roundup that month during an earlier phase of Operation Cross Country.

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