Three employees of the classified advertising department of the Orlando Weekly, including the Director of Classified Advertising, have been arrested on charges of promoting prostitution by selling ads to escort services. The newspaper itself has also been charged with racketeering and aiding in the commission of prostitution. Newspaper Publisher Rick Schreiber calls the arrests "an outrageous abuse of process and an attempt to censor the First Amendment rights of a newspaper that has reported critically on the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation." The MBI is a multi-agency law enforcement task force involving a number of Orlando-area police departments, along with the FBI, DEA, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Florida state law enforcement agencies. The charges handed up by a local grand jury came after female MBI agents posing as prostitutes allegedly got the Orlando Weekly employees to create ads for them that would be published, even though the employees knew the escort service ads were for prostitution.
RBR/TVBR observation: The big buzz in Orlando now is over whether the MBI will next go after Craigslist. The law enforcement organization recently sent a letter to the CEO of the popular online site asking that Craigslist take down ads being posted daily by more than 100 known prostitutes in the Orlando area. We noted just a few months ago (7/26/07 RBR #145) that free ads for adult services on Craigslist are responsible for a big financial hit on alternative weeklies, which had previously made lots of revenue from ads that are not accepted by most major dailies.