Lebanon Wraps Prostitution Sting

By Jordan Cuddemi

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-28-2016 11:52 PM

Lebanon — The city police department this week is publicizing 14 arrests made in a recent prostitution sting to discourage the sex trade within Lebanon.

Police on Monday sent out a news release that included mug shots and criminal charges against the suspects arrested in the multiweek operation.

“We hope this (investigation) sends a message,” Chief Richard Mello said. “People do pay attention ... they pay attention that we are out there enforcing this.”

Between May 9 and June 23, police arrested 14 people — eight of whom are from the Upper Valley — and charged them with either prostitution or soliciting prostitution, along with drug possession and a variety of other charges.

The nine men charged face a single misdemeanor count of soliciting prostitution, while the five women face a single misdemeanor prostitution charge.

In the operation, Lebanon officers posted and responded to ads offering or seeking prostitution on websites such as backpage.com or Craigslist.

Mello said the number of text messages, calls and emails investigators received when posting ads offering sex for money was overwhelming.

“When we post an ad, we are inundated with messages, to the point of it being ridiculous,” Mello said.

From there, the officers attempt to arrange meetings.

Mello called prostitution an ongoing problem in the Upper Valley, but said that police had not observed an increase in incidents prior to the sting operation.

Police have received complaints from hotels about a parade of people coming and going from some guest rooms, Mello said.

Lebanon isn’t the only area police department that recently has put a focus on the online sex trade.

Canaan police in April set up a similar sting and arrested three men who allegedly agreed to pay money for sex acts. In the past, Hartford police also have set up operations targeting prostitution, particularly in hotels near the interstate.

Until recently, Lebanon hadn’t been among the departments that focused manpower on undercover operations targeting the sex trade.

Following a prostitution bust in Hartford, Lebanon Deputy Chief Phil Roberts told the Valley News in June 2014 that prostitution hasn’t been a “significant” problem in the city, and said he couldn’t recall a sting in the 14 years he had been with the department.

Mello acknowledged he has focused more resources than previous police chiefs on issues such as online prostitution and other Internet-releated crimes since taking the reins of the Lebanon department in December.

It’s worth investing resources in operations such as the undercover sting, he said, because along with it being illegal, residents are negatively impacted by other behavior associated with prostitution.

And some of the illicit acts, Mello said, occur in city parks and in cars that are parked in neighborhoods and the parking lots of businesses.

“It is not just about ‘Leave these adults alone,’ ” he said. “It is more than that; there is a direct impact to our community. Some people don’t understand that.”

Prostitution also is frequently linked to drug activity, he said.

“My concern is keeping my thumb on the pulse of what’s going on in the community,” he said. “Even if a small percentage is impacted, that is too many or a percentage too many.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.