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Prostitution ring is talk of town

July 13, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

It has become the talk of the town. Rumors abound. Whispered names are repeated in offices and over telephone lines, and ears, somewhere, probably are burning.

Just who is on The List?


The list contains names of men who visited a well-organized prostitution ring police allege was operating from a Martinsburg motel.

The motel owner and the woman who police allege ran the ring have been charged, but no prostitutes or clients have been arrested.

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Although "the list" and the names on it are frequent topics of conversation, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said it is sealed evidence that will not be released.

Inquiries persist, though.

"I get asked that all the time," she said.

Games-Neely said she recognizes some names on the list, but that does not mean they match those of local residents. Anybody can use another person's name, or two people could share the same name, she said.

Taped conversations, confidential informants and police officers posing as customers played parts in the investigation into the prostitution ring.

It culminated Saturday, July 5, when the woman accused of running the ring, Susan C. Powell, 41, of West King Street in Martinsburg, was charged with misdemeanor counts of keeping/maintaining a prostitution ring/business and deriving support/maintenance from a prostitute.

Also charged was Surendra "Sam" Singh, 50, who owned the Economy Inn on Winchester Avenue. Police allege he received money or sexual favors in return for allowing the ring to operate from his motel. Singh was charged with misdemeanor counts of operating a house of ill fame and receiving support from prostitution.

Anonymous call


In a five-page affidavit filed in Berkeley County Magistrate Court, West Virginia State Police Trooper Nathan Harmon detailed some of the tools police used to investigate the case.

The investigation began on April 14 around 9 a.m. when an anonymous caller asked Harmon whether he knew a prostitution ring was operating from the Economy Inn. The caller said Powell operated the ring and cloaked it under the business name of Gold Club Spa dating service, records show.

Later that day, Harmon called Games-Neely and she told him officers with the Martinsburg Police Department had opened an investigation into the business.

When Harmon went to the Martinsburg Police Department, he was handed a copy of a videotaped statement given by a woman who previously worked for the prostitution ring.

On the videotape, the woman said clients paid $90 for a 30-minute session or $150 for a one-hour session. On an average day, the woman made around $400, she said.

When a client called the business' phone number - which was advertised in The Herald-Mail and newspapers in Virginia - Powell would give the caller a list of girls, using first-name aliases, and descriptions of the women if requested, the former employee said. The client would then be told to call back 15 minutes later to find out which prostitute he would visit, when and in which motel room, the woman told police.

Once the client arrived, the prostitute would take his money, hide it in the bathroom and then perform a sex act, she said.

Approximately 13 other women worked for the business at the time the woman spoke to police in December 2001, according to court records.

The woman also gave police the names of other employees and frequent customers, records show.

West Virginia State Police Sgt. Dean Olack said he called the business and pretended to be a potential client. When he asked the woman who answered the phone what kind of service he could receive for a specific amount of money, the caller went into explicit sexual detail, Olack said.

Martinsburg Police Department Detective Sgt. George Swartwood and Games-Neely witnessed that phone conversation, records show.

Informants' roles


Two weeks after receiving the anonymous phone call and watching the videotaped statement of the former prostitute, Harmon arranged for a confidential informant to solicit prostitution. The informant called the business' phone number, gave his name and was told to call back in 15 minutes. When he did, he was told to go to room 112 at the Economy Inn and meet with "Angel."

Police recorded the conversation that ensued when the informant knocked on the motel room door. "Angel" told him she was about to get off work and suggested he visit "Cassandra" in room 110.

Because "Cassandra" would not perform a specific sexual act the informant requested, "Cassandra" told him to speak to "Angel" again because "Angel" would engage in the act, records show.

The informant was told that "Angel" worked every day from noon to 5 p.m.

A second confidential information interviewed for a job with Powell on July 2. The interview was recorded using video and audio electronic monitoring equipment, records show.

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