Shooting the Messengers
When I heard the news that three employees at the Orlando Weekly were arrested on charges of deriving proceeds from prostitution and aiding and abetting prostitution, my first thoughts were: What about every other alternative weekly (including the Alibi) that runs advertisements for escort agencies? Why haven't they been targeted, and are they going to be?
According to numerous articles written in the Orlando Weekly after the arrests, the reason the paper has come under investigation is due to the litany of highly critical articles the paper has run about Orlando's Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, which conducted a two-year undercover investigation code-named "Operation Weekly Shame."
According to excerpts from the MBI's prospective summary, “Operation Weekly Shame” was designed to curtail escort agency advertising, arguing, "advertising is the critical element for a prostitution business to exist and expand within a community."
The Orlando Weekly isn't buying it. "The MBI has a jaw-dropping list of transgressions stretching back to its inception in 1978," one of the critical articles states. "The MBI is an inept, inefficient police organization answerable to no one ... And if you dare confront the agency on their appalling record, they will try to put you out of business."
Upon its completion, OWS resulted in the arrest of the Orlando Weekly's classified advertising director and two account executives as well as a grand jury indictment for criminal racketeering against the paper itself. The three arrestees allegedly sold ads to undercover agents who explicitly told the employees their businesses were engaged in prostitution.
In order to secure a guilty verdict, the MBI must prove the employees knew they were selling ads to people who were engaging in prostitution. To this end, the Orlando Police Department released a pretty damning transcript from a phone conversation between one of the defendants and an undercover officer. In it, the officer explicitly states his employees regularly engage in sex with customers and the defendant continues to pursue a sale.
The defendants' lawyer fought back, telling Orlando reporters the conversation is taken out of the larger context of a lengthy investigation and this kind of pre-trial release of evidence could make it difficult for his clients to receive a fair trial.
Putting aside the suspects' potential guilt for a moment, could the funds used in the investigation against the Orlando Weekly have been put to better use? It seems likely. It's also possible that the MBI's actions were at least partially driven by a long-standing grudge against a paper that regularly criticized its actions.
Regardless of the case's outcome, one can only hope investigations like these don't become the norm. If they do, alternative weeklies and other papers across the country will be put under undo scrutiny and police resources will be woefully misused.