Two San Diego men were facing a slate of prostitution-related charges today for allegedly running a commercial sex enterprise via a fee-based, members-only website that served as a cyberspace alternative to traditional pimping methods.
Following a year-long investigation by the multi-agency San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force, Christian Koalani, 66, and 68-year-old Dale Vinzant were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of offering sex for sale via a secured website called San Diego Adult Service Provider, according to police.
The online prostitution ring is believed to be the first of its kind ever uncovered in San Diego, according to police.
"This is groundbreaking," SDPD Capt. Brian Ahearn told reporters during an afternoon briefing.
Koalani, owner of a locally based escort service, and Vinzant, who allegedly operated the illicit website, are suspected of luring vulnerable young women into prostitution with offers of drugs and money. It was unclear how many might have been victimized, though investigators believe some 50,000 people -- both clients and victims -- had used the website over a period of years, Ahearn said.
The online sex marketplace allowed members to contact women, negotiate transactions and post reviews, the captain said. The suspects used the site to advertise and then profit by taking fees from the exploited women, he alleged.
Koalani is the author of "Story of An American Escort," a novel based on his experiences in the underground sex trade, according to police. When he met Vinzant about 10 years ago, Koalani was running a pimping scheme via his Facebook page and proposed moving it to the latter man's website for their mutual benefit, the captain alleged.
The suspects set up the illicit business under a veil of secrecy in an attempt "to wall off law enforcement," only allowing potential customers access following a thorough vetting process, Ahearn alleged.
"It was very covert," he said. "Not a lot of people knew about it -- only those, really, who were members."
Once on the website, however, clients and the women they were seeking to hire often were frank in their negotiations, according to Ahearn, who said investigators "saw language that was very specific, language that was very graphic."
Authorities were alerted to the prostitution operation by a woman in her 20s who provided information about it after being contacted by police on an unrelated matter, Ahearn said. He declined to disclose details on the nature of her connection to San Diego Adult Service Provider.
The website has been shut down, with anyone trying to access it now directed to another one that provides information about human trafficking-related crimes and how to recognize and report them.
Police believe the online prostitution service boasted about 900 members at the time of the suspects' arrests two weeks ago on suspicion of pimping, pandering, conspiracy, solicitation of prostitution and money laundering, Ahearn said.
To access the illegal services, members paid fees of roughly $15 a month or $100 per year, according to police.
With insight gained from the unique case, local authorities "will be actively involved in pursuing other similar types of business models that might be doing similar things," Ahearn said.