The proprietor of a prolific prostitution social networking website has been sentenced to federal prison.
Eric Omuro, 53, of Mountain View, Calif. pleaded guilty last December to one charge of using a facility of interstate commerce to facilitate prostitution. Omuro and another person, 40-year-old Annmarie Lanoce of Rocklin, Calif., were arrested for their part in operating the social networking websites SFRedbook.com and MyRedBook.com, both of which were primarily used as a social network to connect sex workers to paying customers.
On Thursday, Omuro was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison for his role in running the website. Lanoce pleaded guilty last year and received a deferred sentence that allowed her to avoid a felony charge with good behavior.
Federal authorities claimed the pair had run the RedBook websites as an escort directory for sex workers. Authorities also charged the pair with 24 counts of laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars that the feds said were profits derived from their illicit entrepreneurial activities.
The money-laundering charges were apparently dropped in exchange for Omuro’s guilty plea. As part of the sentence handed down on Thursday, Omuro agreed to forfeit the MyRedbook domain names seized by the FBI and surrender more than $1 million in cash.
The MyRedbook websites never explicitly claimed to offer services geared toward cash for sex, instead calling itself a directory for escorts, dancers, massage therapists and others in the adult entertainment industry. But federal authorities allege many read between those lines and offered illicit services that amounted to sex work and prostitution.
In the four years MyRedbook and its affiliate sites were operating, it was frequently targeted by local and state law enforcement agencies for conducting various stings against those accused of pimping sex workers and trafficking in minors. In 2011, officials in San Mateo County arrested several suspected johns who were believed to be using the website to arrange sex between paying customers and underage girls, the San Francisco Examiner reported.
Some civil liberties groups criticized the shutdown of MyRedbook and affiliated websites when the domains were seized by federal authorities last year. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital advocacy group, said the shutdown of MyRedbook was part of a “disturbing trend of targeting sex workers” and called the websites’ demise “to free speech and free association exercised by a diverse group of people, many of whom have nothing to do with the alleged crimes.”
In addition to the websites, several associated forums were shut down, many of which had been used by sex workers to exchange reviews about former customers, safety tips and engage in discussions on a variety of non-sex related topics such as politics.
“These sites were essential tools for First Amendment protected speech and association especially important for a community that values its privacy for a variety of legitimate reasons,” the EFF said. “To compound the destruction of this indispensible (sic) forum, the users of these sites now have cause to worry that their private information, such as IP addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, may be in the hands of the FBI.”
The EFF cited at least one news report that indicated federal authorities had seized “several boxes of evidence,” including computer hardware and business records, as part of their crackdown on MyRedbook last year.
It is unclear if any users of MyRedbook had been targeted or charged by federal authorities since the websites were shut down.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.