Sacramento’s Best

A prostitution sting operation reveals the inner workings, and flaws, of the Police Department’s vice division

David said he’s used both prostitutes and escort services before, and he was hoping they were one in the same when he called Sacramento’s Best in late April. The woman he talked to was friendly, and called him back several times over a few days to set up their date.

“She was pretty persistent,” said David (who spoke to SN&R on condition of anonymity), “which was unusual.”

They decided to meet on May 3—a Thursday—at 12:30 in the afternoon at a room in the Doubletree Hotel. They had agreed on a price during the phone conversations: $100 for a half-hour date. The date would be even quicker than he anticipated.

“On the day we were going to meet, she called a couple times and made it seem like a big deal that she was getting a hotel room,” and David recalled that she said it was “just for me.”

He already liked her voice, and when he arrived at the room, he was pleased that she had the looks to match: blonde, slender, attractive, in her 20s, “like a college girl.” David asked if she was a police officer—thinking she had to say if she was—but his date smiled coyly and said no.

“We talked a little and she asked me what I wanted to do,” David said. “I was totally tense and couldn’t really do anything, so she really just talked me through it. … She was pretty much in charge.”

Eventually, David said what he wanted to do, indicating he wanted to have sex. They hadn’t even touched yet. Money was exchanged, and the woman excused herself to get ready in the bathroom. Or so he thought.

It was at that point that Sacramento Police Department officers, who had been monitoring the exchange from an adjacent room with video and audio equipment, burst into the room to arrest David.

Setting the trap
Michael Hansen—a burly, balding man in his 40s who looked and smelled like he hadn’t showered in a couple of days—came into the Sacramento News & Review office on April 16 to place an ad in the adult section for his business, Sacramento’s Best escort service.

“College Co-Eds,” read the ad. “By Appointment Only. 606-0835 incall.”

Following a newspaper policy designed to discourage advertisers that are merely fronts for prostitution, Hansen had to present a copy of his driver’s license and a Special Business License, which the county issues to “sensitive” businesses: those with the potential to become criminal enterprises, such as escort services; or those with unsupervised access to homes or minors, such as housekeepers or ice cream truck vendors.

Obtaining that special license requires the applicant to submit to a criminal background check by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Any past arrests for prostitution or other crime of moral turpitude would have meant people like Hansen couldn’t get the license or advertise their businesses.

Over the next two months, the ad generated more than 250 calls to Sacramento’s Best, and Hansen helped set up dozens of dates between clients and his girls, all of which began and ended at the Doubletree Hotel and other Sacramento hotels.

The clients, such as David and 46-year-old Mark Endicott, would show up at the agreed-upon hotel room. Lisa Maneggie—that attractive, slender blond in her 20s—was waiting for Endicott when he arrived for their mid-afternoon date. The act was allegedly described, money was exchanged, Maneggie went to the bathroom, the cops burst in.

It was a scene that was repeated 22 times over three days in early May. All those arrested were charged with soliciting prostitution. David’s actions lead to a court date. He pleaded guilty this fall and was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Endicott is fighting his charge and goes to trial January 7.

Reached by telephone recently, Hansen denied that he was a police officer and said he had no knowledge of the arrests associated with Sacramento’s Best. “I’m just a businessman,” he said, asking that the article not mention his business. “We like to stay low profile and out of the spotlight.”

But he was lying. Michael Hansen is one of four vice cops with the Sacramento Police Department. Or rather, the guy on the phone, in the driver’s license photo and who stopped by SN&R to place the ad was a cop, even though his name isn’t really Michael Hansen.

Cops lie
There is a persistent myth—believed even by many prostitutes and others who might benefit from knowing the truth—that police officers must answer truthfully if you ask them if they are indeed police officers. It’s not true. Cops can lie.

They can lie about who they are, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. They can sign forms and contracts with false statements that would amount to perjury for you and me. They can get fake driver’s licenses through the Department of Motor Vehicles, listing addresses either real or nonexistent.

Similarly, police can go to great lengths in luring people to commit crimes. Although defendants like Endicott and David often say their arrests amount to police entrapment, the law focuses only on whether they intended or even hoped to have sex with this woman they were paying.

“For an entrapment defense, basically you have to show that you didn’t have a predisposition to commit the crime anyway,” said McGeorge School of Law Professor Mike Vitiello. “Police can do a lot.”

Or, as David put it, “I thought it was entrapment, but my lawyer didn’t think so.” Endicott couldn’t be reached directly, and his attorney, Kelly Babineau, would not comment on the case except to say, “My client is an upstanding citizen and once the facts are brought to light, I am certain he will be exonerated.”

Sergeant Daniel Hahn said the Sacramento Police Department conducts a wide variety of sex crime sting operations—including busting hookers and “Johns” on Stockton Boulevard, posing as children on the Internet to catch pedophiles, and answering ads that are fronts for prostitution. But Hahn said this was the first time they actually created an escort service and advertised in SN&R.

“It was done, along with numerous other efforts of our vice team, because we know a lot of escort services are fronts for prostitution rings,” Hahn said. “We continue to evolve our efforts to whatever the latest front is.”

Hahn refused to discuss the legal threshold for when a legitimate date with a paid escort becomes an illegal act of prostitution, saying it could tip off would-be arrestees, but simply showing up at the hotel room was not enough to trigger an arrest.

Hahn did point out that of the 250 calls they received, there were just 22 arrests: “Somehow in the process, the rest didn’t meet the probable cause to arrest.” He also wouldn’t say how many people actually showed up at the hotel but escaped arrest.

Many details of the police operation remain a mystery. Babineau, Endicott’s attorney, made discovery motions in the case to view training materials and guidelines used in SPD stings, to get information about others arrested in the sting, and to get whatever notes Officer Maneggie had taken.

“The disclosure of this material goes to the very lynchpin of the due process clause,” Babineau argued. All those motions were denied by the judge.

Licensed to arrest
The Special Business License required for escort services, sensual massage companies and similar businesses is designed to weed out prostitution rings, said Guy Fuson, the county’s business license manager: “Massage is one of those sensitive subjects. Basically, 90 percent are legitimate, but there is a core that’s used as cover for prostitution.”

SN&R classified manager, Jenna Bartlett—who received a subpoena in the Endicott case—said the newspaper does what it can to screen out prostitution front groups from being able to place ads. “It’s not required for us to ask for the Special Business License, but it’s something we do on our own to protect our advertisers and readers.”

Still, she is bothered by the police using the newspaper to help make arrests. SN&R stopped running the ad on May 22 once Bartlett learned it was a police front, tipped off by an 18-year-old who had been busted.

“I don’t agree with it,” Bartlett said. “I think there are more serious crimes being committed that they can focus their attention on.”

It was a sentiment that prostitutes themselves have long voiced.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that we have a whole squad in police departments devoted to busting people for prostitution,” said Carol Lee, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based prostitution defense group Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE). “It’s a waste of resources.”

She also said police conduct in stings can blur the line between right and wrong and between the good guys and the bad guys. She said innocent people can be hurt in the efforts to crack down on this victimless crime. Others, innocent of involvement, can also be dragged into the case.

Borrowed address
The address listed on Michael Hansen’s driver’s and business licenses is a large, two-story house—tan with maroon trim—in an upper-middle class cul-de-sac in South Sacramento. It’s not the kind of home you’d expect from the owner of a fledgling escort service like Sacramento’s Best, but that was the address listed.

Krishna Naikar was just pulling out of the driveway when he pulled over to talk to a journalist who appeared to be casing the address, just as he had stopped to talk to a private investigator doing the same thing a couple of days earlier.

“I’m getting upset about people driving by without telling me what the fuck is going on,” said Naikar, who knew nothing about Michael Hansen or a Sacramento Police Department sting operation or Sacramento’s Best (except for getting some mail from the county a few months ago, which he sent back unopened, thinking it was a mistake).

Naikar said several suspicious people had driven by his house and not just the journalist and investigator, who was working for attorney Babineau. Told of the sting and police front group, Naikar was bothered by the ploy and confused as to why his address was used.

“It’s driving me nuts,” Naikar said. “If this goes too far, I might take some action against someone.”

Sergeant Hahn soon learned from the journalist that Naikar’s address was used and that he was upset. “We realized that inadvertently an actual address was used when we thought it was not an actual address,” said Hahn.

The incident has now changed department policies with regard to undercover operations, with new procedures put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again, although Hahn wouldn’t go into detail about how addresses are selected or fronts are developed.

“We will go out and apologize and tell him what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Hahn said.

Yet the basics of such stings will change little. The Department of Motor Vehicles will still furnish the police with fake identifications as needed, Hahn said, and the Sheriff’s Department will still cooperate with fake background checks for undercover officers seeking a special business license.