Bellevue Sting Gets Stung – Cops Use Illegal Audio Recordings In Prostitution Busts

illegal-audio-recordingThe so-called Bellevue Sting has imploded, reportedly resulting in over 60 prostitution cases being dismissed.  After discovery that the undercover cops recorded conversations of the suspects without providing notice, the bulk of cases were thrown out of court.   Washington state law requires two party consent to record audio conversations, even by the police.  The Bellevue City Prosecutor concluded that the proper legal remedy for the (likely inadvertent) illegal audio recording was dismissal of the charges.

Loss of revenues to the City of Bellevue, plus police man hours wasted, were significant.

The case began back in September.  Over a hundred men were charged with patronizing a prostitute after contacting under the subheading “Premium Escorts”.  The ad was a ruse for a police task force.  Lonely men contacted the number in the ad and made arrangements for meeting an escort, who, of course, was an undercover female cop.  The suspects either called or texted for a date (the later even worse, as the texts were downloaded by the police as evidence).   They took the bait; hook, line and sinker.

I represented one of the men busted in the Bellevue Sting.  When reviewing the DVD recording of the meeting between the undercover cop and my client, I noticed, as did many attorneys for similarly situated clients, that the conversation between the them was audible.  Clearly, my client had not given consent to be recorded.  The cops, in their gusto to catch “criminals” in their sting, had broken the law themselves.

A huge case like this, that has so spectacularly blown up in the face of the Bellevue police department, should bring many different topics to the surface.  Naturally, there should be discussion of whether the city’s wasted resources would have been justified even if the cases had been brought to trial.  Are the funds and police hours worth spending on busting people engaging in shady, but consensual, sexual activity?  On the psychological side, it begs the question of how lonely and misguided the men are who took the bait in this sting.  Will they ever learn?

Men caught in the Bellevue Sting may have slipped through a legal loophole, but the case still illustrates how damaging this type of behavior can be. When are people going to learn that engaging in illegal sexual activity can only lead to legal trouble and personal downfall?  One of the men caught in the net, a well-known local radio personality, lost his job.  Others undoubtedly had negative employment consequences, not to mention the firestorm at home with family.

Without arguing the immorality of this behavior, it is ridiculously risky.  Too risky.  Stay away from “CityVibe” type ads.  You’re most likely talking to the police anyway.

If you have a criminal matter you would like to consult with a lawyer about, please contact Jan Olson at Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC at (206) 682-0565.