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Alleged Sex Ring Is Broken Up

Run from Palm Springs, the enterprise used more than 240 women in four states, officials say.

August 15, 2006|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Riverside County authorities on Monday said they broke up a massive Palm Springs prostitution ring posing as an escort service and employing more than 240 women across California, Nevada, Oregon and Arizona.

Three women and four men were arrested in their luxurious Coachella Valley homes early Wednesday morning, including two Israeli nationals who allegedly ran Elite Entertainment, authorities said.

Boaz Benmoshe, 44, and Ofer Moses Lupovitz, 43, were the ringleaders among seven people arrested on suspicion of pimping, pandering, perjury, loan fraud, money laundering, falsifying income tax returns and grand theft, said Sheriff Bob Doyle.

Benmoshe's wife, Melanie Ann Smith, 24, and Russian nationals Moti M. Vintrov, 33, and Eliran Vintrov , 28, plus their spouses and others were also arrested.

The business managed more than 80 phone lines out of its Palm Springs headquarters for at least three years, where clients across the West would call an 800 number to request a girl, Doyle said. Local authorities, working with Secret Service agents, also seized about 15 computers and $5 million in unspecified assets, officials said.

Dist. Atty.-elect Rod Pacheco described Elite Entertainment, under investigation for 2 1/2 years, as a "huge criminal enterprise" that generated millions.

Benmoshe and Smith filed tax documents reporting earnings well below their income and obscured the nature of their business to secure a $440,000 home loan, according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors. Benmoshe also obtained a Social Security number under an alias and falsified information when applying for a second California driver's license, the affidavit alleged.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Desert Eagle," represents a "large dent" in regional prostitution, Doyle said.

Authorities declined to elaborate on the identities or scope of the business' clientele but said the investigation was continuing and that more arrests were likely.

Elite Entertainment, which went by several names, including Hot Times Inc. and Premier Connections, advertised online and in newspapers, Doyle said. Escorts would charge between $200 and $2,000 for sexual services, Doyle said.

Undercover detectives in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Riverside County ordered escorts who worked for Elite Entertainment to hotel rooms by Los Angeles International Airport, the Queen Mary, Pechanga Resort & Casino and other locations, and arrested them after money was exchanged for the promise of sex.

An arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 21.

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