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Quick prostitution sting ends with 17 arrests

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Prostitutes and customers accustomed to meeting along a strip of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard had some company this week.

The police bicycle patrol and undercover detectives mingled with the regulars Monday in the 1400 block of Gulf-to-Bay, arresting 17 people in just five hours in a double sting.

While a female officer posed as a prostitute, a male officer acted as a customer decoy. They got plenty of business.

Police Sgt. Joe Tenbieg, head of the bicycle team, said 14 men were arrested on soliciting charges. Two women were arrested on soliciting charges, and a man was arrested on a charge of indecent exposure.

"We did it in response to complaints and what we see on patrol," he said. " . . . We see three or four prostitutes working along there during the day, so we decided to do this. We could have gotten a lot more. We could have gone all day."

According to police spokesman Wayne Shelor, the 1400 block of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard has long been a haunt for prostitutes. Depending on police enforcement and arrests, he said, prostitutes may move around to different locations in the city.

Since they are responsible for patroling the downtown core from Highland Avenue west, the six officers on the bicycle team became familiar with activities in that stretch of Gulf-to-Bay, which joins Cleveland Street at the bottom of a hill.

Businesses in the area welcomed the team's prostitute operation.

Dave Lazanis, owner of the Nationwide insurance agency in the block and a property owner there for 18 years, has seen the ebb and flow of prostitutes and customers for a long time. He said the bicycle team is making a difference.

"These guys are great," Lazanis said. "The undercover stings are usually really effective."

"The prostitutes out here are brazen as hell. When you put the heat on them, they go somewhere else for a while."

Tenbieg said the 14 men arrested on soliciting charges ranged in age from 20 to 76. All face a misdemeanor charge with a maximum punishment of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted.

In addition, the men were cited under a state law that allows their driver's license to be revoked if their cars were used to solicit for prostitutes. If they are convicted, their licenses are automatically revoked for a year.