UPDATE 4/1/14 @ 6:20 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Police are continuing to crack down on prostitution in the city of Huntington with the second sting in less than a month. All but one of the five women arrested Monday night were repeat offenders.
“This is pretty much ground zero for the prostitution activity,” Huntington Police Capt. Rocky Johnson said of the area where both stings took place, on 6th Avenue between 1st Street and 6th Street.
Bob Theuring knows that all too well, and so do his customers at Tandem Innovation, a business to help workplaces install technology and computer systems.
“Always have to feel like I have to warn them, and that's a bad thing. A business should not have to do that,” Theuring said. “I say this area is known be a strong area of prostitution and behaviors like that, so just be aware that there might be people walking around.”
Police say because some of the women arrested for prostitution are so familiar with law enforcement, they have had to use undercover officers from other agencies such as West Virginia State Police. That’s because prostitution is not a felony until the third offense. Johnson said that means some women who are arrested could be back on the street within a few days.
“The money that they make from this is not going to buy diapers and milk for a baby at the house. It's not going to pay bills,” Johnson said. “It's going to support a drug habit.”
Officers say people who live and work nearby have called in tips and taken video of women blatantly flagging down cars.
“’Are you looking for a date?’ Something to that effect, and then it goes into different type of acts, and a price is agreed upon,” Johnson said. “We see a lot of Kentucky tags [on cars, a lot of Ohio tags. In a city the size of Huntington, how do they find this four-block area?”
Johnson said he hopes women who are engaging in prostitution to get money for drugs can find help for their addictions.
“It's dangerous to get in a car with a stranger. They don't know who that person is or what they're up to, so you got to worry about that first. Then you got to worry, ‘Is this guy a cop? Am I going to get arrested?’” Johnson said.
Theuring told WSAZ.com he hoped the neighborhood would get better as police cracked down on prostitution.
“I want it cleaned up, just like everybody else does. We don't want this reputation of this area to be, ‘That's where the prostitutes are,' but that's what we see a lot of,” Theuring said.
Police say all the suspects they arrested Monday night were caught within a period of three and a half hours. They say they are planning to do a reverse operation where a female officer will go undercover to try to catch the people who are soliciting prostitution.
The women who are arrested Monday include:
Johnson, Blake, Fuller and Fulton each face charges of third-offense felony prostitution. A 19-year-old woman from Lexington, N.C., faces a charge of first-offense prostitution -- a misdemeanor.
All five women are being held at Western Regional Jail. Each woman declined to speak with WSAZ.com on Tuesday.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.
The Huntington Police Department’s Special Emphasis Unit, along with an undercover West Virginia State Trooper conducted the sting on 6th Avenue between 1st and 6th streets.
It was a follow-up investigation from a sting that took place in the same area on March 6. Five women were arrested in that sting,
In each sting, the women flagged down the undercover officer and offered a variety of sexual acts in exchange for money.
During Monday’s operation, five women were arrested, four of whom were charged with third-offense felony prostitution.
Jennifer Johnson, 23, of Huntington, is charged with third-offense prostitution.
Tracy Blake, aka Tracy Langdon, aka Tracy Ross, 38, of Huntington, is charged with third-offense prostitution.
Belinda Fuller, 40, of Huntington, is charged with third-offense prostitution.
Barbara Fulton, 58, of Ranger, W.Va., is charged with third-offense prostitution.
A 19-year-old woman from Lexington, N.C., is charged with first-offense prostitution -- a misdemeanor.
“As long as we continue to receive the calls from citizens and see the need for enforcement activity, we are going to perform these stings,” said Huntington Police Capt. Rocky Johnson.
“People who visit this area for criminal activity need to understand that the people who live and work along 6th Avenue are watching and are calling the tip line with the information needed to make these operations successful," Johnson said.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Huntington Police Department’s anonymous tip line at 304-696-4444.