Prostitution sting in Harrisonburg: new details

Published: Jan. 13, 2016 at 5:24 PM EST
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Harrisonburg Police Dept. investigators told WHSV that last week's undercover prostitution operation was part of a larger, ongoing effort. Ten people, ranging in age from 19 to 75, were charged with solicitation --one of the largest numbers in such a sting so far. Among those charged was EMU Vice President for Enrollment Luke Hartman, who has since resigned.

The Harrisonburg Police Dept. (HPD) has been investigating prostitution in the region for a while. Over the course of the last year and a half, 43 charges have been filed related to prostitution, including 26 johns and 12 prostitutes facing charges, as well as five pandering or pimping investigations.

Investigators wouldn't speak specifically about last week's operation, but they said the individuals were not enticed. "The investigation is set up so that people have to make a conscious effort to reach out to our undercover --versus us out soliciting them for these acts," said Lt. Christopher Rush, who works with the Special Operations Unit for HPD.

Investigators said past prostitution charges have led to further investigations, resulting in serious drug charges including possession and intent to distribute marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. It also led to charges related to stolen vehicles, fraud, investigation of a meth lab, and human trafficking of a child.

No such extra charges came up so far as a result of last week's operation; Lt. Rush spoke of other past recent cases HPD investigated.

"And this is our way of not only enforcing what we have in Virginia as it applies to prostitution but also trying to take a piece of that crime cycle out --to try to prevent, deter and intervene in not just prostitution but other crimes that are occurring," added Lt. Rush.

Investigators have seen a significant increase in prostitution activity over the last year in a half, compared to the 18 months before that. They have also seen a number of prostitutes coming from other areas of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware to do business.