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A Tampa woman, a "mature courtesan,'' offers a "girlfriend experience'' and "light sensual domination'' on a national escort Web site. Customers can click on more than reviews of her performance, including this from one man: "she is an expert at the art of making love and I will be back.

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Many such as these are a front for prostitution, say local police, and they're proliferating on the Internet. One reason: Police face increasing public pressure to catch child pornographers and pedophiles who operate on the Web. At the same time, prosecutions of organized online prostitution have failed in the past, making law enforcement officials skittish about spending taxpayer dollars for little return.

But you're talking about a misdemeanor violation and the type of investigation you'd have to do in terms of manpower, it's very costly. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office discovered that four years ago when it tried to bring down Bigdoggie.

Detectives then called the Tampa-based Web site a "worldwide Internet prostitution ring. The arrest of the site's operators and about a dozen escorts on 57 charges, including racketeering, conspiracy and prostitution, made headlines nationwide. But the case, which took detectives more than a year to put together, unraveled inside a Tampa courtroom in a matter of months. Operation Flea Collar cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars and culminated with all charges being dropped against 13 defendants except for a few minor prostitution charges.

Police had hoped the case would become the standard for future prosecutions, a way to bring down the escort malls that have popped up all over the Internet.

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It is not illegal to advertise sex on the Internet or receive money to be an escort; it only becomes illegal when sex is traded for money. Investigators today, however, are having to go after Internet prostitutes the way they do street walkers: one by one. More and more women and men are starting to use the Internet as a tool.

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It's easier. In fact, nothing is easier in this criminal life.

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On March 13,a year-old engineer arrived at a Tampa hotel room to meet with an escort named Lia Nice, police reports show. When he asked for oral sex, police arrested him.

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She had agreed to help police with Bigdoggie in return for leniency in her case. In MarchNice helped arrest at least six men at a Tampa hotel room who had solicited her services using the site. Donald Bowling, the case's lead investigator.

The year-old man told Bowling that he had been with up to 40 prostitutes listed on Bigdoggie. Detectives offered the men leniency in return for testimony against other prostitutes and Bigdoggie's operators. In JuneBowling went to a judge and got arrest warrants for Charles Kelly and Steve Lipson, the Web site's operators, and a dozen Bigdoggie escorts. A month later, a judge said Bigdoggie was facilitating prostitution and ordered the site shut down.

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Some 10, s of arrest and court records, which include interviews with prostitutes, paint a picture of Bigdoggie as a site run by two computer guys who frequented prostitutes. One confidential informant alleged in Hillsborough arrest records that Kelly had started out in on a message board called Decadent City, posting a top list of the women he had paid for sex.

Kelly, who was known as "The Big Dog,'' started Bigdoggie in to promote prostitution and became notorious for trading sex for money, advertising and a ranking on his top list.

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Lipson managed the business end of the business, including billing. One prostitute told police that he was also the moderator of Bigdoggie's Miami message board. Police were able to show Bigdoggie reached into multiple Florida counties so it was ased to statewide prosecutor Chris Brown in the Office of the Attorney General. Police and prosecutors hesitated in turning over the identities of the men testifying against Bigdoggie because threats had been made against them on the site.

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In Octoberthey finally received more than 5, documents from prosecutors, plus a cache of CD-ROMs and cassettes. Among the documents: names and addresses of the men. But it was too late. The judge ruled the defendants' rights to a speedy trial were jeopardized and dismissed the case.

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Behnke said in a recent interview. The judge's decision could have been appealed, Brown said, but Charlie Crist was taking over the Attorney General's Office from Bob Butterworth and a decision was made to let it go. There was a ruling that speedy trial was violated.

Today, Hillsborough detectives look back at the Bigdoggie case and say it is unlikely they will ever repeat such a complicated investigation.

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Operation Flea Collar "was so time consuming,'' said Sgt. Local police vice units say there is a continuous tug of war for resources. Police also say they need to maximize their arrests.

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No one really knows how many prostitutes are online, but there is no shortage of escorts. On one national site alone, - and there are many - women from the Tampa Bay area advertised their services this past week. The Internet allows many escorts to go on "tour,'' from city to city, advertising in local Web sites. Some even "tour'' foreign countries.

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Though one or two escorts contacted by e-mail and telephone told the Times they were only offering men their time - nothing more - half a dozen said they were prostitutes. Police say they still go after online prostitutes when there is a complaint. That's how Hillsborough detectives arrested Curtis Eugene Nissly, a year-old Largo man who advertised on Craigslist as a bisexual.

Detectives called Nissly's ad and arranged to meet him. Once he accepted money for sex, Nissly was arrested.

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Craigslist, which says it has about million visitors a day, allows people to place notices for free. In recent months, police in New York, Oregon and Washington have charged almost a dozen people who advertised on Craiglist with prostitution.

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Elm, founder of the Erotic Review, a Web site that allows men to review escorts and gets aboutvisitors a day. Prostitutes listed on escort sites said they still worry about police stings, but most said they know how to spot law enforcement and use the Internet to protect themselves. Many ask their customers for at least two references from fellow prostitutes. Customers, meanwhile, use reviews to make sure they're not walking into a police sting.

Authorities say it is this online networking in a close-knit community that makes it tougher to crack down on online prostitution. Many post memos to prospective clients telling them to place the money in an envelope on the dresser but to never, ever talk about it or what they want for it once they get there or they will be asked to leave.

Today, the domain name Bigdoggie. A message was sent to Bigdoggie through that company. The Times did not receive a response. Lipson, 43, reached in South Florida, said he no longer is connected to Bigdoggie.

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Kelly, 55, now a realtor, said through his attorney that he also was not affiliated with the site. Subscribe Manage my subscription Activate my subscription Log in Log out.

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