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October 1, 2014

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Their valuables gone, like their ladies of the night

More than $2 million is likely be stolen in ’09 in ‘trick rolls’ in which a prostitute robs a client

People in the company of Clark County prostitutes collectively reported having $1.4 million in cash and goods stolen from them during the first nine months of this year — dupes of a larceny genre better known to police as the “trick roll.”

By year’s end, it’s estimated the total reported losses will exceed $2 million — almost double last year’s total, and probably a fraction of the real amount.

How many people file police reports, after all, when their prostitutes disappoint?

Enough, at least, for Metro vice detectives to determine the problem is getting worse, and assign two detectives to trick roll investigations exclusively. They’ve gotten roughly one case every day this year. In 2007 it was more like one a week.

That increase could have something to do with the economy. Fewer tourists with less money means supply exceeds demand. Prices drop and competition ratchets up for prostitutes, many of whom police say must meet nightly quotas set by pimps. Metro Sgt. Donald Hoier, though, says the problem picked up before the economy fell, simply because Clark County was saturated with sex workers and outlets for illicit entertainment.

When everybody scrambles for the same pool of money, bad seeds take short cuts.

Consider the reported losses Hoier reads from a list of cases: $10,000 in cash, casino chips and a laptop; $30,000 in cash and chips; $20,000 Rolex; $6,000 Rolex; $5,000 cash; and — perhaps the most interesting, a case Hoier can only hint at — $175,000 in casino chips.

These are preposterous amounts, which is probably why they were reported in the first place.

Sometimes these are crimes of opportunity. A watch is left out, a laptop is folded in the corner.

But there are prostitutes for whom sex is only a pretext to theft, and others who have no intention of sleeping with their clients, Hoier said. They know how to exploit angles and mirrors to see safe codes being punched, while others, Hoier says, actually become good at identifying the tones assigned to each number on the key pads.

“While he’s in the shower,” Hoier says, “she’s taking everything.”

Drugs are slipped into drinks. Clients are escorted to ATMs for payment, only to find their cards have been stolen by someone who surreptitiously saw the pin number. Two women come to one room and run lewd tactical diversion.

But sometimes it’s just a matter of violence.

Prostitutes have pulled guns. Pimps, waiting nearby, Hoier says, have beaten people just shy of death.

All of this is easier to accomplish when the target fits a preferred profile: intoxicated and alone.

Susan Lopez, founder of the Las Vegas chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, a national group dedicated to sex workers’ rights, said the economy is definitely a factor in the uptick.

“There are a lot of transient sex workers who come here because they think it’s going to be more profitable,” she said, adding that it’s widely felt that “most of the people who are committing these infractions are pimped women, and women who answer to somebody.”

Women who steal from their clients give a shamed industry a bad name, Lopez said, much to the frustration of local, independent sex workers who take their occupations, and reputations, seriously.

At the same time, however, “the girls kind of feel like it’s the guy’s own stupid fault — when desperate and drunk people get together, they don’t have a good time.”

For the record, Hoier says, trick rolls happen everywhere. High- and low-end casinos, on the street when a prostitute brings a client down a dark alley, and outside strip clubs, when dancers go home with clients.

In one case, a couple having an affair in Las Vegas hired a prostitute. The female client later realized her engagement ring, purchased by her fiancee back home, was stolen.

In a different case, a woman approached local men in nightclubs, spent weeks getting to know them (and the layouts of their homes), then drugged them before executing high-dollar burglaries.

There’s often a gap between the theft and the time it’s discovered, which complicates things for police. Even when clients realize right away, prostitutes have vanished down access stairs and out emergency exits, avoiding notice or handing the goods off to someone else.

Getting people to come forward is another problem. To this end, police carefully explain, misdemeanor crimes, like soliciting a prostitute, only lead to an arrest when they occur in the presence of police. Other trick rolls are never categorized as such, because johns hide their real relationships to the thieves.

When cases are opened, they often reveal other related crimes. Lately, for example, trick rolls are feeding identity theft. Other times, thieving prostitutes lead vice detectives back to violent pimps.

“It happens more than you’d probably think,” Hoier said. “A lot of women would rather steal from these guys than work as prostitutes.”

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