Craigslist is hailed as one of the world's largest online marketplaces.
At craigslist.org, you'll find a $200 Compaq desktop computer for sale, excellent condition, with 704 MB of RAM. A $795 Shiatsu reclining massage chair with an adjustable foot rest. There's even a 1910s-era ukulele going for $195.
And it turns out, under the site's "erotic services" heading, you can also solicit a prostitute.
Tips from Craigslist users — as well as family and friends of women posting ads on the site — led the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to arrest four women Thursday. They are accused of advertising sexual services online.
Each woman faces charges of prostitution and unlicensed practice of health care for massages given to a confidential informant who worked with the sheriff's vice/narcotics unit on the case.
The Sheriff's Office focused on women who were specifically advertising their services in Pasco County, spokesman Doug Tobin said.
He said the Sheriff's Office arranged for the informant to meet the women at different times Thursday at the Comfort Inn, 11810 U.S. 19 in Port Richey.
The women "engaged in sexual activity with a confidential informant," according to an arrest report, for amounts ranging from $300 to $350.
Tobin said he didn't know how long investigators had been working on the case or what the women's ads said.
But it's clear the world's oldest profession has gone high-tech.
"This isn't the first time we've seen this, and it won't be the last," Tobin said. "There's a lot of eyes that peruse these things, and that was the impetus of this investigation. People saw things they didn't want going on in Pasco."
Law enforcement agencies around the country have started monitoring the ads on Craigslist to crack down on prostitution, according to the New York Times.
Last July the sheriff of Cook County, Ill., rounded up 43 women working on the streets — and 60 who advertised on Craigslist. Police in Seattle posted an ad in November 2006 that led to the arrests of 71 men. And an ad posted by Jacksonville police in August 2006 netted hundreds of hits and 33 arrests.
Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best did not return a phone call or e-mail for comment Friday.
But the company's president, Jim Buckmaster, told the New York Times last year that its 24-member staff cannot patrol the multitude of constantly changing listings — some 20-million per month — and counts on viewers to flag objectionable ads, which are promptly removed.
The Web site says users agree not to post, e-mail or make available content that is "pornographic or depicts a human being engaged in actual sexual conduct."
Nonetheless, Tobin said most of the tips in the Pasco sting were related to Craigslist ads. Some tips also pointed investigators toward the escort services site
While the ads of the arrested women were no longer available Friday on Craigslist, other ads in the "erotic services" category included photos of women, some posed provocatively or barely clothed, looking for Pasco hookups.
One read: "Gentlemen ... Work is almost over ... So ... sneak over and see me!"
Another exclaimed: "OH ! SOOOO ~ [S] [E] [X] [Y["
The women arrested Thursday are:
Jolyn Dawn Steier, 38, of 2110 Marshview Drive in Wesley Chapel, who was also arrested on drug charges and released Friday on bail; Angel Ann Stebelton, 35, of 30707 Way Drive in Wesley Chapel, who was also arrested on a drug charge and is being held in lieu of $10,150 bail; Shawn Marie Lee, 20, of 2060 15th Street SW in Vero Beach, who is being held in lieu of $5,150 bail; and Kimberly Anne Jimino, 25, of 4205 Summerdale Drive in Tampa, who was released on bail Friday.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.