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A detective in a massage-parlor sting was nude when he began receiving what court records call a "hand job" from a suspect in May, but Glendale police insist that the officer stayed within policy.
The incident during an undercover operation demonstrates the fine line officers must walk to make busts when their targets know the rules of the game. Getting nude or performing sex acts with prostitution suspects has raised controversy in Arizona and other states in the past, such as in the bungled 2003 sting by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office that resulted in cases against 60 defendants getting tossed.
The undercover officer was part of a broad investigation by a law-enforcement task force into a ring of suspected prostitutes. The probe culminated in raids last Wednesday on businesses and homes in Glendale, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. Four Chinese women in their 40s and 50s were arrested on suspicion of operating a house of prostitution, illegal control of an enterprise, money laundering, and conspiracy. A U.S. citizen, Brian Groff, also was arrested in connection with the ring; a fifth suspected prostitute remains at large.
The suspects made millions of dollars since 2009, taking bulk cash to China on airplanes before filtering it back into U.S. banks, said officials with the state Attorney General's office, which is handling prosecution."In an undercover capacity, the detective will disrobe to appear to be a legitimate client... However, they will cover themselves as to not expose themselves." — Officer Tracey Breeden, Glendale Police Department spokeswoman.
Officers with the Glendale, Chandler, Scottsdale, and Phoenix police departments helped make the case by using video surveillance, combing through accounting records found in trash, and sending undercover officers into the massage parlors. Much of the evidence of prostitution was collected by officers who negotiated sex acts with the suspects, typically a $40 "hand job, " before any clothing was removed.
But in at least one instance noted on a booking sheet submitted to the Maricopa County Superior Court, a detective stripped down and received a massage before the suspect began giving him a "hand job."
The suspect, 55-year-old Ding Hengxia, had the undercover officer "roll over and after doing so Hengxia began to masturbate (hand job) without solicitation or an agreed price. [The detective] left the business before the act could be consummated, " court records state.
New Times' inquiries about this statement in the public record have created consternation among officials at Glendale police officials and the Arizona AG's office.
Officer Tracey Breeden, spokeswoman for Glendale police, said the info in the booking sheet about what happened between the detective and suspect was "incorrect, " and that questions about the court record should be directed to the AG's office. Mia Garcia, spokeswoman for state AG Mark Brnovich, referred questions back to Glendale PD.
On Friday, Breeden released a report written by the detective that confirms the description in the booking sheet, making it unclear what Glendale police think is "incorrect."
According to the report, the detective arrived at the Shangri-La Spa at 6670 West Cactus Road in Glendale on May 4 "to see if any of the employees would offer me a sex act."
After a few minutes in a waiting room, an Asian woman wearing a yellow shirt and animal-print skirt asked him if he wanted a massage. He said "yes, " then was directed to go to another room and take off his clothes, which he did.
"Once I was disrobed I laid on the bed on my stomach and covered my backside with a towel, " the detective wrote.