In the last several months, the Houston police department and other agencies have stepped up efforts to arrest prostitutes, johns, and pimps in multiple stings in the area. In February the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office announced that three sting operations in the Houston area had resulted in the arrest of 41 alleged perpetrators. By my count, in the last weekend, there were 7 prostitution arrests in the Houston area in the last weekend. Although this may not seem like a staggering amount, it does suggest that stings and enforcement are ongoing since prostitution cases are difficult to prove without a sting and a recording.
As a Houston criminal defense attorney, I often hear about these stings before they make headlines due to calls I receive from people arrested or their family members. In recent weeks, I have seen received a number of calls from people arrested in several different types of stings.
One ongoing police sting appears to be taking place in spas offering massages. Many of these spas are in seedy areas and have a reputation as being places where prostitution does take place. However, many of these places are actually spas that offer massages and nothing illegal. Nevertheless, officers of the Houston Police Department have been coming to these spas posing as clients and attempting to get employees to agree to sexual favors in exchange for money. Very often, the women working at these spas do not speak English well. In these cases, it is critical for a criminal defense attorney to see if there was any kind of knowing agreement to exchange money for sex. I have obtained dismissals in prostitution cases where there was a language barrier and an explicit agreement could not be proved.
The Houston Police Department also uses spas to stage reverse stings in prostitution investigations. In these cases, an undercover officer poses as a prostitute and corresponds with men on websites that are “notorious for sex trafficking” (in the words of an offense report), and arranges for the john to meet at the spa. When the suspect arrives, usually the conversation specifying that money is being exchanged for sex is made explicit, and the suspect is arrested. Stings of this nature also take place at motels throughout Houston.
Another common sting takes place on the street, in areas known for having prostitutes that solicit motorists. One such notorious street in Houston is Bissonnet. Usually led by the Houston Police Department vice squad, this is another area police use stings. In street stings, a female undercover police officer attempts to solicit motorists. Once an agreement is in place, the motorist is typically pulled over and arrested moments later.
Finally, another area targeted by law enforcement is strip clubs. In strip clubs, members of the vice team actually receive lap dances which they pay for with city money, and arrest dancers if they offer to engage in sexual acts for money. On occasion, they will even charge dancers with an offense such as public lewdness (a Class “A” misdemeanor) if they engage in sexual contact with the officer. For law enforcement, these are some of the most difficult prostitution cases to prove. Many members of the public do not believe prostitution should be illegal at all and have a problem with male vice officers spending their tax money to get lap dances and buy alcohol at strip clubs.
Each of these defendants is looking at a different potential sentence. Prostitutes face the lowest charge. A first-time prostitution conviction for the prostitute (i.e., the person selling sex is a Class “B” misdemeanor, whereas a second or third is a Class “A”, and a third or more is a State Jail Felony. A first time-conviction for attempting to buy sex is a State Jail Felony (prior to September 1, 2021, a first-time solicitation of prostitution conviction was also a misdemeanor).
The resources police devote to prostitution stings are staggering. For one recent spa case I was hired on that was investigated in Houston, the offense reported listed no fewer than 15 officers. Perhaps for this reason, officers can be overzealous as they feel pressure to justify the huge manpower expenditure to enforce prostitution laws. Criminal defense attorneys know that it is critical to aggressively challenge all of the evidence in prostitution cases, as they are notorious for containing embellishments and outright lies.
If you have been arrested for prostitution it is critical to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands how these investigations work, where they fail, and how to keep a conviction off of your record. If you are arrested for prostitution anywhere in the Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. Call today to schedule a free consultation by phone, zoom, or in person.