It sounds like the plot of a movie, and in truth, Houston vice officers did take a page from a Hollywood script to set up a prostitution sting that would prove so convincing they were able to arrest 139 suspects, including a fellow Houston police officer.
Of the 139 men arrested, two were attorneys, one was a teacher at Sheldon Independent School District and one was a Transportation Security Administration tech working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
While the police officer who was arrested was not identified, he did speak with KPRC.
“What I did was wrong. It was a mistake, and I regret it,” the officer said. “I will be punished, and I should be punished. I will plead guilty … I should not have done it.”
Vice officers conducted the sting inside a shop formerly known as 7 Star Spa, which is located in a strip mall at 11316 Westheimer Road. The “spa” had closed in 2016 after many prostitution busts.
Banking on the spot’s reputation in the sex industry, the Houston Police Department hatched a plan to stymie the demand for the sex trade in Houston, which they say supports the sex trafficking industry.
Officers reopened the business Oct. 6 as 8 Star Spa, posting a sign that it was under “new management.”
Undercover officers who worked the spa were charging a $60 admission fee, which is the average rate in Houston, and $120 for sex acts. Most of the johns — a term for the sex buyers — were arrested after money changed hands.
Police Chief Art Acevedo said the operation was part of the police department’s plan to curb demand for prostitution. Police are increasingly targeting johns because more and more women are being forced to participate in the industry.
Acevedo pointed out sleeping quarters and a dungeon with shackles that had both been in use when the spa was operating as a brothel.
“These women are not engaging in prostitution because they want to,” Acevedo explained. “They’re doing it because they’re being coerced.”
Defense lawyers are complaining about the amount of money and effort HPD is spending to catch johns in the act, saying they should be arresting brothel owners and pimps instead.
But Acevedo has the answer to that complaint: “These 139 individuals are part of the reason the sex trade is alive here in Houston. These men should be ashamed.”
Operation 8 Star cost the department $20,000.