A New Jersey woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September 2014, after pleading guilty to racketeering charges related to accusations of operating a “prostitution ring.” While media coverage of the case focused on the more prurient aspects of the investigation, the actual criminal charges focused on her role as the alleged head of a criminal enterprise. “Racketeering” refers to various forms of conduct that may appear legitimate, but are actually intended to benefit an organization engaged in illegal activity. Statutes like the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq., allow prosecutors to focus more on the organized nature of an alleged criminal offense, or the intended beneficiary, than on the conduct itself.
According to news coverage, the woman, Deanna Ruiz, operated an internet-based prostitution service, which paired clients with sex workers in motels in several central New Jersey towns. She reportedly received “millions of dollars” in revenue from this operation over a 15-year period, but media reports also indicate that she spent more than $1 million on hotel and motel rooms. Ruiz was accused of using multiple business entities as money-laundering fronts. She was arrested in August 2012 after a lengthy law enforcement investigation. She was released on bail but was taken into custody again in July 2013 and formally charged. Six other adults and one juvenile were reportedly also arrested in connection with the investigation.
Prosecutors charged Ruiz with at least three alleged offenses: money laundering, promoting organized street crime, and promoting prostitution. Money laundering involves channeling money obtained from illegal activity through an intermediary, such as a front company, to conceal its origins. See Tex. Pen. Code § 34.01 et seq. The “street crime” charge is similar to charges that could be brought under Texas’ organized crime statute, Tex. Pen. Code § 71.01 et seq.
Texas law defines “prostitution” as offering or agreeing to engage, or engaging, in “sexual conduct” for a fee, or soliciting someone “in a public place” for the same. Tex. Pen. Code §§ 43.01(3), 43.02. A person may claim as a defense that he or she is a trafficking victim. The offense ranges from a Class B misdemeanor to a second-degree felony, depending on the age of the alleged prostitute and any past convictions. A person who receives compensation for someone else’s agreement to engage in sexual conduct, or who solicits someone for the same, commits “promotion of prostitution.” Tex. Pen. Code § 43.03. Ownership, control, or investment in a “prostitution enterprise” with two or more prostitutes could be prosecuted as “aggravated promotion of prostitution.” Tex. Pen. Code § 43.04.
Nothing in the coverage of Ruiz’s case suggests that anyone was compelled to do anything, and the prosecutors focused almost entirely on financial activities. News reports mention allegations of tax and unemployment fraud, but Ruiz’s guilty plea in August 2014 was for the offense of “racketeering.” See Tex. Pen. Code § 71.02(a)(3). Several other people were also charged with racketeering offenses, including a woman who reportedly bought airline tickets for people to come to New Jersey to work for Ruiz, and a woman who handled scheduling and booked hotel rooms.
If you have been charged with an alleged criminal offense, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and will prepare the best possible defense for your case. Board-certified criminal defense lawyer Michael J. Brown has helped west Texas criminal defendants for more than 20 years. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.
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