Officials: 17-person prostitution sting was county-wide operation

BY DORA GROTE | APRIL 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local police officials said Internet advertisements helped lead to 16 recent arrests on prostitution and related charges — including that of a University of Iowa professor.


"The Internet connects people," said Lt. Shane Kron of the Coralville police. "It's a tremendous benefit — tremendous crime tool. Many, many crimes are Internet-based, and prostitution is no different. You don't need to run ads in newspapers any more."

According to a city of Coralville press release, the arrests were made following a monthlong investigation followed by a two-day joint sting operation by police in Coralville, Iowa City, and the University of Iowa and Johnson County deputies.

Police complaints show UI Dentistry Clinical Assistant Professor Lance Forbes was charged Wednesday with offering to purchase a sex act. Forbes allegedly arranged to meet with a female at a predetermined location. Upon arrival, he agreed to pay the female — an undercover police officer — in exchange for oral sex.

Forbes first joined the College of Dentistry in 1998 and is a clinical assistant professor of Family Dentistry at Hospital Dentistry. He is also director of the UI College of Dentistry's general practice residency program at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

UI officials declined to comment on the charges.

"The university is aware of the charges, but beyond that I cannot discuss confidential personnel matters," UI spokesman Tom Moore said.

Kron said the operation team successfully completed the sting because of the technical support, surveillance, and large number of people involved.

"Prostitution has its own culture — its own websites, its own verbiage, its own code words," he said. "If you can't get inside that, you are going to struggle."

According to police complaints, Waterloo resident Melody McCullom told police officials she operates a prostitution business online that brings in thousands of dollars a week. She also allegedly admitted to creating a website used to set up sexual meetings for her sister, a minor.

A person who knowingly engages a minor in the sex trade is can be charged with human trafficking, a Class C felony.

Local police teams brought in investigators from the Law Enforcement Intelligence Network, a national agency composed of personnel and resources open to assist other agencies in operations, to assist with the sting.

Police officials expected more arrests, Kron said, but ran out of investigators who were working on other tasks.

"We had more than 30 investigators assisting in this operation," Kron said. "And at one point, we didn't have any left."

The arrests could have an effect on the careers of those charged in the sting.

Drake University law Professor Sally Frank said employers have the right to fire an employee for any reason — including prostitution charges —.

"It's public information, and the employers might decide publicity is bad, and they don't want it," Frank said. "It wouldn't be a violation of Iowa Civil Rights Laws to fire an employee for that reason."
Kron said the prostitution and human trafficking problem isn't location-specific — it's a public problem.

"Prostitutes travel," Kron said. "They work somewhat of a circuit — city to city a couple days at a time. The johns tend to be local. They are frequenting the prostitutes who travel. If you didn't have prostitution, you wouldn't have minors being trafficked all across the country, and johns can't wash their hands of that."

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