Spotsylvania County, Va., authorities are defending their allowing detectives to engage in sexual activity while investigating suspected illegal massage parlors, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Sheriff Howard Smith said the measures are needed to bring felony sex charges rather than misdemeanors. He compared the practice to drug stings in which undercover officers buy illicit narcotics from suspected dealers. “I don’t see a lot of difference,” he said after the Washington Post cited court documents in reporting that Spotsylvania detectives allowed women to perform sexual acts on them and once left a $350 tip during an investigation of an establishment called Moon Spa.
Prosecutor William Neely said detectives can engage in sexual activity on the job “within reason.” Charles J. Key Sr., a retired Baltimore police lieutenant who trains police officers and federal agents across the country, told the Post that Spotsylvania’s practice was “insane.” He and others said undercover officers need only obtain an offer of sex-for-money to make a case. Smith contends that an offer of sex for money would result in only a misdemeanor prostitution charge and that defendants arrested under those circumstances would likely be released from jail pending trial and could flee. Neely said fondling alone is not a crime in Virginia and that the massage-parlor employees spoke little English. For those reasons, Spotsylvania authorities said the detectives were advised to allow the acts of prostitution to proceed further than in a simple street prostitution arrest, in order to build a case that the owner of the business knew of and profited from illegal sexual acts for money by employees.