Investigators have dismantled what they described as the first members-only Internet prostitution ring of its kind in San Diego, run by two men who allowed male customers to post online reviews of the women involved.
The two are accused of merging their separate, long-standing sex trade businesses some 10 years ago, attracting an estimated 50,000 members. About 900 men and women were active members when authorities shut down the website, police said.
San Diego police Capt. Brian Ahearn, at a news briefing Tuesday, called the sex ring "a very covert operation that was very well-planned and very sophisticated."
He said the website operator personally vetted every man and woman seeking to become a member in an effort to "wall off" the site from law enforcement.
But when a member — a woman in her 20s — gave information about the site to police about a year ago, the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force began an investigation. The case wrapped up with the arrests of Dale Vinzant, 68, of Mission Beach, operator of San Diego Adult Service Provider, and Christian Koalani, 66, of Pacific Beach, who ran American Escort Co.
Vinzant was arrested June 3 and charged with pimping, pandering, soliciting for prostitution and money laundering. He is being held on $150,000 in bail, police said. Koalani was arrested June 2 and charged with pimping, pandering and conspiracy, with bail set at $500,000. Both have pleaded not guilty and face trial.
Koalani published an audiobook, "Story of an American Escort: A Fictional Guide for Success," in 2008 under the name C.J. Koa, chronicling his experience in the illicit sex trade, police said. He was arrested in 1985 on suspicion of running a call-girl ring out of the La Jolla Village Tennis Club subdivision. Police said at the time that the prostitutes ranged in age from 15 to 25.
The women who became members of the current website were adults, Ahearn said.
He said Koalani picked up women who were down and out on the streets, many of whom had drug problems, and persuaded them to trust him to take care of them. He is alleged to have given them drugs and money. Then he would post their photos on a Facebook page, where they were made available for paid sex.
Vinzant is suspected of running his secure website for many years. Women would post a photo and a personal profile, then negotiate in private with clients, meeting them at various locations in San Diego County.
Ahearn said membership fees ran about $15 a month or $100 a year.
When investigators gained access to the members-only meeting area, Ahearn said, they found graphic language describing the sex acts being negotiated — "more graphic than what we've seen in other websites and what we've seen in traditional prostitution industries."
San Diego police, with the county sheriff's department, state Department of Justice, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, obtained search and arrest warrants in the case this month, then arrested the two men. They also shut down the website with the help of an Orange County-based server, Ahearn said.
The human trafficking task force comprises investigators from several local police departments, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the IRS, U.S. Marshals Service, the California Highway Patrol and other agencies.
Ahearn said the task force's highest priority is to rescue victims from sex trafficking.
"There are other options, and we're here to help them," he said.