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State charges dropped in alleged prostitution ring

July 24, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said Wednesday that state charges relating to what prosecutors alleged was a local prostitution ring were dropped against two people, but she said it was possible that federal charges could be filed.

Games-Neely said that as the investigation continued, she came to believe the case was "much more serious" than she first realized.

She said she discussed the case with U.S. attorneys, and both she and federal officials decided that local charges should be dismissed to clear the way for possible federal charges.

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Papers were filed in Berkeley County Magistrate Harry Snow's office Tuesday to dismiss charges against Susan C. Powell, 41, of West King Street in Martinsburg, and Surendra "Sam" Singh, 50, owner of the Economy Inn at 1616 Winchester Ave., Games-Neely said.

The charges were dismissed "without prejudice," meaning charges could be re-filed later, Games-Neely said.

In cases where federal charges are filed in a case in which state charges already have been filed, the state charges do not usually have to be dropped, she said. Because the state and federal laws are so similar in this case, the state charges had to be dropped, Games-Neely said.

Martinsburg Attorney Kevin Mills, who represents Powell, said the move to drop the charges is interesting because he has never seen a prostitution case prosecuted in federal court.

Mills said he was concerned about the "federalization of a state crime" to increase penalties in the case.

Powell had been charged with misdemeanor counts of keeping/maintaining a prostitution ring/business and deriving support/maintenance from a prostitute. Singh had been charged with misdemeanor counts of operating a house of ill fame and receiving support from prostitution.

Powell has said his client is innocent.

Games-Neely said the area of federal law that she and federal officials are exploring is the Mann Act, which deals with soliciting or enticing people across state lines for purposes of prostitution.

An investigation began after West Virginia State Police Trooper Nathan Harmon received an anonymous phone call in April from a woman asking him if he knew about a prostitution business being operated out of a local motel.

The woman told Harmon she used to be employed through the service - which she identified as the Gold Club - and wanted something to be done about the business, state police said.

After an investigation, it was alleged that Powell ran a business known as "Gold Club-Escort Services," state police said.

State police alleged that Powell used the Economy Inn at 1616 Winchester Ave. as her employees' place of business. A police document filed in Berkeley County Magistrate Court alleged that Singh would receive money or sexual favors for use of the rooms.

Police armed with search warrants went to Powell's residence on West King Street and the Economy Inn, and seized $5,375 in cash, ledgers, log books, employee numbers, room registries and clientele information, according to records.

A list contained names of men who visited the prostitution ring, and Games-Neely has said it is sealed evidence that will not be released.

Powell and Singh were free on bond.

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