MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS SF) — Two people, including a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur, have been arrested in Mountain View after two escort websites were shut down by the FBI and the IRS Wednesday.
53-year-old Eric Omuro allegedly ran SFRedBook.com and MyRedBook.com out of his upscale Mountain View home, assisted by his girlfriend 40-year-old Annmarie Lanoce, according to a federal complaint.
The two were arrested Wednesday and both website domains seized by the FBI. The main image on the websites was replaced by an FBI notice saying “This seizure is based on probable cause to believe that this domain name was involved in money laundering derived from racketeering based on prostitution in violation of state and federal law.”
The websites promoted free listings for services ranging from massage parlors, strippers, dominatrixes and escorts throughout the western U.S. Authorities allege they were also used to facilitate prostitution services.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement, “The website hosted advertisements for prostitutes, complete with explicit photos, lewd physical descriptions, menus of sexual services, hourly and nightly rates, and customer reviews of the prostitutes’ services.”
Omuro and Lanoce were both charged with interstate travel in the aid of a racketeering enterprise while Omuro was charged with 24 counts of money laundering. Omuro is also accused of using numerous aliases to move funds from the site into his control. The indictment seeks the forfeiture of more than $5 million in assets including bank accounts at four different banks, investments, a BMW and a Mini Cooper.
Agents seized several boxes of evidence at the home on the 200 block of Houghton Street in Mountain View, including business documents and computer hardware.
Agents wouldn’t comment directly on the case, but said they usually follow a paper trail. “We go through books and records, mortage records, bank records, anything from overseas,” said IRS criminal investigator Arlett Lee. “It can be anything that can tie down what a person is making and where it’s going.”
FBI spokesman Peter Lee said there were multiple FBI search and arrest warrants served in the Bay Area Wednesday, including at the Mountain View location.
Omuro and Lanoce made an initial appearance in the federal courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman Lillian ArauzHaase said.
Omuro was released on $500,000 bail and is due back in Judge Cousins’ court for identification of defense attorney and entry of a plea at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
A status conference is scheduled for July 10 before U.S. District Judge William Orrick, the trial judge assigned to the case.
Bay Area sex worker advocates expressed concern today that the seizure could affect sex workers’ livelihood and safety—including those doing legal work.
Oakland-based sex worker rights advocate Sabrina Morgan said that MyRedBook helped sex workers to screen and protect themselves from potentially violent clients and that its absence could put already vulnerable women in danger.
She said that in addition to providing listings, MyRedBook enabled sex workers to talk to clients before meeting them and to talk to other sex workers about potential clients for referrals.
The site contained both a public forum and a private forum just for workers.
“Clients on the site would need references,” and a good reference from another worker was an indication that a particular client was safe to see, she said.
“Taking the site offline means that type of networking and resource sharing is pushed further underground,” Morgan said.
While other websites offer similar services, there is nothing remaining like MyRedBook, Morgan said, as others charge a fee to create listings and operate on a national scale.
Kristina Dolgin, a spokeswoman with the Bay Area chapter of the Sex Worker Outreach Project, said that the loss of MyRedBook as a free resource for sex workers could put an already marginalized community further at risk.
“They’re going to have less safe interactions and be put into situations where they can be put at risk of violence,” Dolgin said. “To those who can’t afford switching to another website, this is completely detrimental.”
Some members of the Sex Worker Outreach Project are consulting with attorneys out of concern that the FBI’s targeting of MyRedBook could lead to charges filed against them.
Dolgin said the FBI might have gained IP addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and other personal details of Bay Area sex workers.
“It’s a very scary thing,” she said.
The site has previously been used as a law enforcement resource for investigators targeting pimps and human traffickers. Officers have posed as clients or offering services in order to arrange meetings and make arrests.
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