The Associated Press
SPOTSYLVANIA, Va.- Undercover detectives in northern Virginia's Spotsylvania County have their sheriff's blessing to receive sexual services at massage parlors so they can catch suspects in the act.
Sheriff Howard D. Smith, who limits the work to unmarried detectives, stands by the practice.
"If I thought we could get the conviction without that, we wouldn't allow it," Smith told The Washington Post for a story on the policy Monday.
Court documents show that four times last month, county detectives allowed women at Moon Spa to perform sex acts on them _ once leaving a $350 tip. Smith acknowledged the practice isn't new.
Several police officials and legal observers said the practice had been tried by other law enforcement agencies across the country in the past, but they knew of none that still permit sexual contact with suspects as part of prostitution investigations.
"It's insane," said Charles J. Key Sr., a retired Baltimore police lieutenant who trains law enforcement officers nationwide. "If you allow officers to go through with the act, they've violated the law. You don't get an exception for participating in a violation of law."
Other law enforcement agencies have dropped the tactic after it backfired.
In Montgomery County, Md., for instance, police had informers engage in sex acts at massage parlors about five years ago. Prosecutors told the police to end the practice, and charges were dismissed.
Henry Connors Jr., chairman of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, told The Associated Press on Monday he planned to ask the sheriff to stop the practice immediately.
"It gives a whole new meaning to protect and serve," Connors said.
Law enforcement officials say undercover officers only need to get an offer of sex for money to move the case forward.
Fairfax County's chief prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. said there is typically a conversation where the specific sexual act and its price is set. He added that these negotiations aren't so hard because "there aren't a lot of Phi Beta Kappas in that field."
But Smith said sexual contact is needed during the investigations because most professionals know not to say anything incriminating. And conversation is difficult, he said, because masseuses at the Asian-run parlors in the county speak little English.
The sheriff got some support from county Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Thomas Shaia, who compared the situation to the need for investigators to buy drugs from drug dealers.
Smith and Shaia's boss, Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely, did not return a telephone call left Monday by the AP.
According to the Post, the sheriff's office has closed several massage parlors with assistance from the Financial Crime Intelligence Center in the attorney general's office.
The center's director, Edward J. Doyle, wrote an affidavit for a raid last week on Moon Spa. Hae Suk Chon and Chung Hwan Choe, accused of being the spa's proprietors, were arrested.
According to the affidavit, two Spotsylvania detectives each paid $60 for a 30-minute massage at the spa. A woman called "Mimi" bathed the detectives, gave them massages and then performed sex acts on them.
"For her services, 'Mimi' was paid a $50 'tip,"' Doyle wrote. The sheriff's office followed up with two more visits.
Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, would not comment on whether the state was investigating the Spotsylvania matter. He told the Post it was an issue for local law enforcement.
When asked about the attorney general's office's knowledge of the Spotsylvania detectives' actions, Martin said: "This office was asked to assist solely in the financial crimes aspect of the investigation. And that is the extent of our involvement."