Utah Prostitution Stings – Catching Culprits of Opportunity or Entrapment

Although paying or receiving funds for sexual activity is against the law, many wonder if Johns arrested during prostitution stings in Utah are culprits of opportunity or victims of entrapment.

Catching one of their own

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A prostitution sting on Valentine’s Day netted the arrest of 51 year old David Moss of Lehi, Utah. Undercover detectives with the Utah County Special Victims Task Force arrested Moss, who was a former police officer with the St. George Police Department after he responded to a prostitution ad online and met two undercover female detectives posing as prostitutes. Moss’s arrest came after he made several incriminating statements online and in person including offers to “manage” the prostitutes and hide their activity from police. He also followed these comments with inappropriate behavior directed at one of the undercover officers.

Patronizing a prostitute

Moss was arrested for multiple charges including patronizing a prostitute which is described by section 76-10-1303 as “when the individual:
(a) Pays or offers or agrees to pay a prostitute, or an individual the actor believes to be a prostitute, a fee, or the functional equivalent of a fee, for the purpose of engaging in an act of sexual activity; or
(b) Enters or remains in a place of prostitution for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.”

Pimps vs Johns

Moss is also facing charges of exploiting prostitution, a third degree felony compared to patronizing a prostitute which is punishable as a class A misdemeanor for a first defense. While patronizing a prostitute is the typical charge for “Johns”, exploiting prostitution would be the charge for the “pimps” or those wishing to recruit or manage others in prostitution. Third degree exploiting prostitution is defined by Utah Code 76-10-1305 as when “an individual:
(a) Procures an individual for a place of prostitution;
(b) Encourages, induces, or otherwise purposely causes another to become or remain a prostitute;
(c) Transports an individual into or within this state with a purpose to promote that individual’s engaging in prostitution or procuring or paying for transportation with that purpose;
(d) Not being a child or legal dependent of a prostitute, shares the proceeds of prostitution with a prostitute, or an individual the actor believes to be a prostitute, pursuant to their understanding that the actor is to share therein; or
(e) Owns controls, manages, supervised, or otherwise keeps, alone or in association with another, a place of prostitution or a business where prostitution occurs or is arranged, encouraged, supported, or promoted.”

Gray area

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Since Moss came prepared with an illegal business plan, it is hard to say he didn’t know what he was getting into unless his inappropriate business endeavor was all a ruse to impress the ladies. Regardless, his actions will be making a lasting impression; a negative one when he faces a judge in court. While Moss’s case could paint a pretty clear picture of how horrible his remarks and behavior was – he was not the one placing the ad; he was merely responding to it. If the ad hadn’t been there, would he have still made the illegal choices that he did? This is a common question that comes up following prostitution stings. Are stings a way to catch criminals or are they a non-biased trap to catch anyone who may happen by? Some otherwise innocent individuals caught in the frequent prostitution stings throughout the state often fall into a gray area where you wonder if they had actually planned to commit a crime or just reacted to a setting they were placed in. This gray area where one may question someone’s criminal intentions that often occurs with stings can be known as entrapment.

Opportunity or entrapment

Entrapment is defined Utah Code 76-2-303 as “. . . when a peace officer or a person directed by or acting in cooperation with the officer induces the commission of an offense in order to obtain evidence of the commission for prosecution by methods creating a substantial risk that the offense would be committed by one not otherwise ready to commit it.” While many arrested during prostitution stings may have been “. . . merely afford[ed] . . . an opportunity to commit an offense”, there is always a concern others were arrested solely based on the enticement of the officers. Anyone facing charges following a prostitution sting whether or not they may have been the victim of entrapment are encouraged to seek legal counsel immediately.

Man Offering Tweens Candy Arrested for Disorderly Conduct

A Utah man was arrested in St. George last week for disorderly conduct after attempting to lure some tweens by offering them candy.

Stranger danger

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Last week a southern Utah mom made a Facebook plea to residents to be on the lookout for a guy who behaved in a creepy manner toward her daughter and a few of her friends. According to the mom’s post, the man approached the tweens as they were walking and offered them candy to which they declined. He then invited them to join him at a party which was also countered with a “no”. It was then that a mother of one of the girls pulled up and asked the individual to leave the girls alone.

Creepy to criminal

Up to this point, all the individual had done was offer the girls candy and an invite to a party. Although this is creepy and inappropriate behavior, nothing about it was against the law. When the mom got involved, the man became notably irritated. He then proceeded to yell at her, violently strike her vehicle hood with his fist before throwing a bag of candy into her car and taking off. It was at this point that his behavior transition from creepy to criminal.

Disorderly conduct

Police were able to locate and apprehend 41 year old Jeffrey Lambert who was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility on a variety of charges including disorderly conduct. Utah Code 76-9-102 states: “A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if . . . intending to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, the person:

(i) Engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior;
(ii) Makes unreasonable noises in a public place;
(iii) Makes unreasonable noises in a private place which can be heard in a public place; or
(iv) Obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic in a public place. . .

Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor if the offense continues after a request by a person to desist. Otherwise it is an infraction.”

Defamation of accused

While the behavior of Lambert toward the tweens was questionable, the community had already identified him publicly prior to his arrest. Not only did the community jump in the find the suspect, they also made public assumptions that proved to be not entirely correct. While Lambert did offer the girls candy, he did not lace it with drugs as many presumed. Additionally, speculations had arisen as to what his intentions were. While many can guess, only those investigating the case will know for sure. The community is encouraged to not publicly burn someone at the stake but instead let the individual face their charges in a court of law. Anyone who does otherwise and publicly slanders a suspect could face their own charges of criminal defamation. For more information on criminal charges and defamation that could arise prior to or during a case, contact a criminal defense attorney.

California Couple Arrested in Utah for Forgery after Creating and using Counterfeit Bills

A California couple was arrested for forgery in southern Utah after police discovered the duo had been washing and reprinting money to create counterfeit bills.

Fraudulent spending

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46 year old Dean Anthony Fagas and 38 year old Crista Jeanette Avila, both of southern California were arrested after a grocery store located in St. George, Utah reported a woman to have been trying to use what appeared to be counterfeit money. Police located the woman nearby and found her to be in possession of multiple hundred dollar bills that were not what they seemed.

Clean cash

After inspecting the bills officers determined them to be counterfeit and upon investigating further, found that other fake bills had been used at various stores throughout the St. George area. The woman, Crista Jeanette Avila, told officers that her boyfriend who was waiting for her at a motel would wash one dollar bills then reprint them as hundred dollar bills. Then Avila would use the fake bills at stores, returning to the hotel with the real monies she received as change. Officers went to the hotel where they found Dean Anthony Fagas and the equipment used to make the counterfeit bills. Although Fagas originally denied his involvement in the fraud scheme, he eventually said he was aware of what was going on but put the blame solely on Avila. Avila and Fagas were both arrested for fraud as well as forgery.

Forgery

Utah Code 76-6-501 states, “a person is guilty of forgery if, with purpose to defraud anyone, or with knowledge that the person is facilitating a fraud to be perpetrated by anyone, the person:

(a) Alters any writing of another without his authority or utters the altered writing; or
(b) Makes, completes, executes, authenticates, issues, transfers, publishes, or utters any writing so that the writing or the making, completion, execution, authentication, issuance, transference, publication, or utterance. . .”
That section also defines “writing” to include “printing, electronic storage or transmission, or any other method or recording valuable information including forms such as:
(i) Checks, tokens, stamps, seals, credit cards, badges, trademarks, money, and any other symbols of value, right, privilege, or identification. . . “

Monetary forgery is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Since currency is issued by the United States, counterfeiting currency can often end in federal charges as well. U.S. Code 18 USC 470 punishes counterfeiting currency with a fine and/or imprisonment of not more than 20 years.

Check for fake cash

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While those who create counterfeit money can face criminal charges for their actions, so can those who end up with the fake cash when they unknowingly spend the fraudulent bills. Since most counterfeit money is found in higher valued bills, anyone using 20, 50 or 100 dollar bills are encouraged to be aware of any abnormalities in the print and feel of the monies. They should also look for identifying watermarks as well as any embedded thread or security strip. While looking for any watermark or thread can be done quickly by holding a bill up to the light, it is important to note that scammers will often use actual low value currency to create higher value counterfeit bills. Checking a bill in the light for ANY watermark or thread is not enough to avoid fraudulent bills since a five dollar bill could be bleached and reprinted as a 100 dollar bill. To avoid accepting fake cash, it is imperative that those accepting large bills ensure the watermark matches the portrait or the monetary value of the bill they are getting. Anyone facing charges for unknowingly using counterfeit bills should consult an attorney immediately.