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Police: man ran sex ring from jail

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A former Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building inmate allegedly ran a prostitution ring while he was incarcerated in the Waterman Drive jail last year.

On Sept. 27, 2012, Eric J. Oliver, 30, formerly of 505 McBride St., Syracuse, was arrested on charges of second-degree promoting prostitution, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a 15-year-old girl.

While he was behind bars, Mr. Oliver was using a phone at the jail to work with two women to run a sex-trafficking ring in Syracuse, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman alleged Tuesday. Mr. Oliver made the phone calls even though he knew the conversations were being recorded, the attorney general’s office said in a news release.

The two women, also arrested, are Tirra Pate, 19, Syracuse, and Jessica Moro, 19, Cicero. The three allegedly preyed on girls as young as 15, recruiting them to work as prostitutes and then forcing them to stay through intimidation and by giving them drugs, according to the release.

According to the eight-count indictment, the three ran the prostitution ring in Watertown, Syracuse, Ithaca and other locations in the state from Sept. 16, 2012, to April 2 of this year. While acting in an alleged conspiracy, the three communicated with each other and with others about the prostitution business over phones “using codes and speaking in a guarded, cryptic manner,” according to the indictment.

During separate but coded conversations with the two women on Oct. 3, 2012, Mr. Oliver directed Ms. Moro to transport prostitutes to Binghamton and instructed Ms. Pate how to deposit proceeds from the business anonymously into his inmate account.

The multicounty investigation began in Watertown with a missing 15-year-old Syracuse girl who was brought here as part of the prostitution ring, state police Senior Investigator Michael C. Pastuf said. It mushroomed from there into a major case, he said. The teen was tracked down here through advertising from a Web page escort service, he said.

“It kind of kicked off with that Watertown incident. But it was bigger than the sum of its parts,” Mr. Pastuf said, adding that he contacted the state police Organized Crime Task Force in Syracuse to handle the investigation in Onondaga County.

At any given time, eight or nine women, some of whom were younger than 16, were working as hookers in the prostitution ring, Mr. Pastuf said.

Jefferson County Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau said all outgoing inmate conversations are recorded by the Sheriff’s Department.

The undersheriff said that his office provided “a couple of surveillances for the state police,” but that it was not involved any further. He referred all other questions to state police investigators.

The three defendants were arraigned Tuesday morning before Judge Anthony F. Aloi in Onondaga County Court. Mr. Oliver faces charges including two counts of sex trafficking, compelling prostitution, second- and third-degree promoting prostitution and third-degree rape, all felonies. He also is charged with fifth-degree conspiracy, a misdemeanor.

He was indicted on the second-degree promoting prostitution charge, which alleges he “knowingly advanced or profited from prostitution of a person less than 16 years old; to wit, a 15-year-old female whose identity is known to the grand jury.”

Ms. Moro faces a felony charge of promoting prostitution and a charge of fifth-degree conspiracy.

Ms. Pate faces felony charges of sex trafficking and promoting prostitution and the misdemeanor conspiracy charge.

The three suspects are accused of intimidating and forcing girls to commit acts of prostitution. They allegedly provided cocaine, heroin and Ecstasy to the prostitutes to keep them working, the attorney general’s office said.

Last year, the mother of a 15-year-old Syracuse girl contacted police because she believed her daughter was involved in prostitution. Mr. Oliver was arrested on Arsenal Street and accused of being a pimp in that case. The 15-year-old also was arrested on an Onondaga County Family Court warrant, her charge not specified, and was taken to Syracuse. Grand jury action is pending.

State police, Syracuse police and the Metro-Jeff Drug Task Force assisted in the arrest on Arsenal Street.

According to City Court documents, Mr. Oliver checked in to the Rodeway Inn, 625 Arsenal St., on Sept. 25, 2012, accompanied by a woman. The next day, he rented a second room for another woman. He previously had rented a room there about two weeks earlier. He provided no identification, and signed in as Mikel Oliver, 914 N. Salina St., Syracuse.

Police were directed by the girl’s mother to the Web page, www.backpage.com, where there was an escort service advertisement containing the teenager’s photo and phone number. Police, acting as a potential client, made contact with the girl and arranged a rendezvous for a half-hour engagement at $160. The “client” was instructed to go to Room 203 at Rodeway Inn, according City Court documents.

When police arrived at the location, they found the girl and Mr. Oliver walking on Arsenal Street.

An inn employee told police that before he stepped out of the building, Mr. Oliver left the second woman in the lobby and asked the employee not to allow her to go into the room.

Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force Supervisor Chris L. Cuppernell said he barely remembered Mr. Oliver’s arrest. He said investigators were called in to help “develop information off the street.”

He also said that he was not surprised to hear that Mr. Oliver tried to run the prostitution ring knowing that his phone calls were being recorded. “These people don’t think ahead when they’re doing these things,” Mr. Cuppernell said.

The investigation also was conducted by state police Senior Investigator Peter Burns of the Special Investigations Unit and Syracuse police Detective Dawn Daly of the Missing Persons Unit.

The Jefferson County district attorney’s office, Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and Onondaga County district attorney’s office also provided assistance.

The case is being prosecuted by James J. Mindell, Organized Crime Task Force assistant deputy attorney general and senior investigative counsel, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.

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