Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Boston And Other Prosecuting Attorneys Target Craigslist And Prostitution In Murder And Robbery Cases

Boston, Rhode Island and the rest of the country are watching the criminal charges against infamous alleged “Craigslist Killer” Phillip M. (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) pile up. Along with the criminal charges, are character flaws such as an addiction to gambling. In the meantime, various prosecuting attorneys are looking for new and different charges and criticism to heap onto the pile of suspicion and innuendo and, of course, people to blame.

And so it is not surprising that, as in the case of white collar crime superstar Madoff, the finger of blame is pointing in various directions, including those we have been discussing this past week.

By now, you probably know of the alleged story of the Defendant. Along with his fiancé, he was pulled over in Interstate 95 one fine Monday as the couple were driving to Foxwoods Resort Casino. The destination was considered noteworthy by Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conely because of a believed “strong link” between gambling and the Defendant’s alleged crimes. In case you have been living in a media-free zone, the Defendant, a Boston University medical school student, has been charged with f murder and armed robbery.

The Defendant’s alleged victims are believed to have met him through their advertisements on Craigslist. The advertisements involved the offering of “erotic massage” services which authorities believe were actually illegal escort, or prostitution services. The murder victim was found on the 20th floor of the Marriott Copley Hotel, having been shot three times and brutally bludgeoned.

Prosecutors say that the Defendant is also guilty of kidnapping and robbing another alleged prostitute who was found tied up at the Westin Copley in the Back Bay.

At first, the Defendant’s fiancé was an ardent defender of her beau. In fact, she issued the statement, ” All I have to say to you is Philip is a beautiful person inside and out and could not hurt a fly! A police officer in Boston (or many) is trying to make big bucks by selling this false story to the TV stations. What else is new?? Philip is an intelligent man who is just trying to live his life so if you could leave us alone we would greatly appreciate it. We expect to marry in August and share a wonderful, meaningful life together.”

Since then, her attorney has announced that that wedding, originally planned for this summer, “will not occur” and is not likely to happen at any time in the future.

Meanwhile, charges have continued to build against the Defendant as he has been linked to a similar attack in a Warwick, Rhode Island hotel. This one allegedly involved an “exotic dancer”.

By the way, “stripping” is not currently considered a crime. Yet.

Given the elements of this case, however, there is simply too much interest for it to be about murder and robbery alone. After all, as the Boston Globe has put it, the Defendant has been charged in crimes “…whose brazen nature and swanky locale shocked Boston residents, drew national attention, and exposed the seamy world of prostitution fostered by the anonymity of the Internet. ”

Ahh yes, that seamy world of the sex trade about which we have “spoken” this week.

While law enforcement is reaching out to potential other victims of the Defendant, asking them to come forward so that Justice can be meted out, the spotlight has been shined upon their alleged profession, so that all can see yet another horror of that awful criminal trade.

One might wonder if said risks would not be lessened if the, now, largely off the streets, trade were made legal and, perhaps regulated…but that is a topic for another day and, probably, another reality.

In the meantime, the net of blame has been cast upon Craigslist for allowing such ads to appear in the first place. I suppose the logic is that if the ads did not appear, then the Defendant could not have found any victims and so none of the violent crimes would have occurred.

Rhode Island’s Attorney General has been particularly loud in blaming Craigslist, complaining that the site is not doing enough to curb crime online – especially in the site’s seamy erotic section.

“They should do more,” he said. “One life lost is enough, and the threat to two others.”

More recently, more states have entered the fray. In fact, representatives from no less than nine states met this past Tuesday with lawyers from Craigslist, pressuring the site to permanently remove the site’s erotic services section.

Leading the charge at the closed meeting in Manhattan was Connecticut’s top prosecutor, Richard Blumenthal. “No question, absolutely none, that Craigslist is operating an online brothel here,” he said. “We’re going after them to persuade them they ought to do the right thing, cooperate, and eliminate the ads.”

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster went further: Craigslist must remove all prostitution ads and pornography or Craigslist executives themselves will be prosecuted.

“It is nothing but filth,” McMaster said. “It is advertisement for prostitution. It is ugly. It is harmful.”

By the way, under current federal law, there is no such criminal liability for said advertisements.

So, one can only wonder why the leaders of political law enforcement posts from states not involved in this matter would be issuing public statements.

I will leave that question to you.
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Attorney Sam’s Take:

Murder is the most heinous crime that society has to offer. Armed robbery is not much better. Both crimes are already illegal.

There is not much more publicity to be gained, after the arrest and prosecution of the suspect, in such cases…unless one were to really focus on how to prevent such crimes in the future through more effective law enforcement techniques. Doing that, though, is pretty difficult and not really all that sexy to the general public.

Meanwhile, alleged killers like the Defendant have been around for many years…long before the internet. In fact, serial attackers of prostitutes have also been around for centuries…the name “Jack The Ripper” comes to mind, for example. As I recall, the London Times did not have an erotic entertainment section at the time.

Chasing the sex trade, often called the world’s oldest profession, off the internet, if successful, is not likely to made the trade go away. It might, however, lead the trade back to the city streets where communities say they do not want it. But then, that, too, is another issue.

Another question that nobody seems to be pondering is if the sexy and “seamy” world of the sex trade is to blame for these crimes…one might imagine that sex would play some role in the actual crime. There is no indication that sexual assault played any part of these crimes, however.

So, what is the issue here? What does this have to do with you?

It comes down to one word –blame. Along with that word is our era of suspicion. Particularly with the omnipresent media involved in the criminal justice system, suspicion and blame seem to run rampant when criminal matters are struck by the spotlight.

The Defendant is not enough to blame for his deeds…the issues of prostitution and Craigslist are much better and more visible targets. What happens if something you do, whether through business or in your personal life could be construed, rightly or wrongly, to be connected with a high profile matter? What if that matter is a crime?
I have been embedded in the criminal justice system in two states and for many years. I can tell you that criminal investigations have a way of sneaking up on you, even if you feel you have done nothing wrong. Something can always go wrong somewhere.

Motives and actions can always be misunderstood and I have not yet met the individual who is truly suspicion-proof.

This is why it is critical today to be aware of your legal surroundings and potential exposure. If you even suspect that there is a potential connection between yourself and something that either is or could be investigated for criminal activity, your best move is to protect yourself by engaging the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney to advise you.

I understand that many may see this virtual mantra to be simply advertising, and, obviously, I do handle these cases for a living. The fact is, however, that I, or anyone similarly situated, would be irresponsible in making these postings, or any other type of public statements about the system as it exists today, without giving the warning.

Have a good, safe and law-abiding weekend!

The full article of this story can be found at http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/04/bu_student_char.html, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,518459,00.html, http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1170136, and http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10234276-93.html

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