The lawyer representing a Shelton woman due in court Wednesday on a prostitution charge lodged by Fairfield police in March said the case should be dismissed because the statute of limitations expired before her arrest.
But beyond that issue, the lawyer, Frank Riccio, said his client, Susan Cecere, didn’t commit a crime even if allegations listed in an arrest warrant are believed.
Cecere, 56, was one of five women arrested after an investigation into Deidra’s Health Salon, a business on Fairfield’s Post Road, that spanned a year and a half.
Cecere and two other employees — Kimberly Arciuolo, 34, and Sacha Burton, 33 — have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor prostitution charges and all are due to appear at Superior Court in Bridgeport July 3.
Court records indicate the salon’s two owners — Sun Cha Johnson, 66, and Joann Caroll, 44 — will have felony promoting prostitution charges against them dismissed in June 2014 if they successfully complete a pretrial diversionary program.
Riccio said last week he wants the case against Cecere thrown out because she is accused of criminal conduct which allegedly took place in April 2011, but she was arrested in March 2013, beyond a one-year limit for bringing misdemeanor prosecutions in Connecticut.
The warrant charging Cecere details allegations from December 2012, but the “date of offense” listed in the criminal case is April 16, 2011.
Riccio said the discrepancy made asking for a dismissal a no-brainer.
“It’s something that seems pretty clear to me, so I have to at least go down that road,” he said.
If a judge rules otherwise, Riccio said Cecere is eligible for accelerated rehabilitation, a pretrial diversionary program for first-time offenders. “In one way or the other in my view, she’s going to be able to earn a dismissal of the charges.”
But even if that weren’t the case, Riccio said the prostitution charge against Cecere would not stick.
“The question becomes whether she engaged in anything which could have been construed as prostitution,” Riccio said Friday (June 28). “I disagree that the facts as stated by police constitute a criminal offense.”
The Facts As Stated By Police
The April 2011 date corresponds to when police began investigating the salon, according to the six-page arrest warrant charging Cecere.
Over the next year and a half, undercover cops made three visits to Deidra’s as part of the probe. The first visit occurred in July 2011, the warrant says, when an officer posing as a customer of the business went there “to determine if prostitution was occurring.”
He was greeted by one of the salon’s owners. “Is this your first time at Deidra’s?” she allegedly asked the undercover cop.
He said yes, after which she led him to a room and asked if he wanted to take a shower before his massage, according to the warrant.
He declined, and was told to disrobe and wait for “Sara,” who would be in shortly. The warrant says he took his clothes off and placed a sheet over his genitals.
“Sara,” who the warrant says was later identified as Sacha Burton, one of the three employees charged with prostitution, came into the room moments later.
When the undercover cop asked how he should position himself on the massage table, the warrant says Burton “laughed, removed the sheet that was covering his genital area and stated ‘you won’t be needing that.’”
The warrant says Burton had the officer lay on his stomach and massaged him, after which she told him to turn over and massaged him some more.
Then, the warrant says, she walked to a cabinet to get some latex gloves, which she put on and oiled.
“No words were spoken between the UC and Burton,” the warrant says, using “UC” to describe the undercover officer. “She started caressing his testicles while gently stroking his penis.” He asked her to stop.
The warrant details similar encounters in January 2012 and December 2012, including an alleged visit with Cecere.
About two months after the December undercover visit, police served search warrants at the business and the Bridgeport home of one of the salon’s owners, netting business records and $16,000 cash.
After the raid, the warrant says employees there gave statements to cops admitting trading sexual favors for cash.
The employees “stated that they almost always provided manual stimulation to their customers to ejaculation and that this sexual favor was part of the service,” the warrant says. “Customers did not have to request this sexual favor because it was unspoken and it was part of the body rub.”
The “happy endings” were so common there, employees allegedly said after the raid, that it was “the main reason customers came to Deidra’s.”
State law says a person is guilty of prostitution if he or she “engages or agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.”
Massage Businesses Targeted
Massage parlors suspected of being fronts for prostitution are popular targets for police.
But the length and breadth of the Fairfield investigation is unusual, especially considering it resulted in a total of five arrests — three misdemeanors allegedly committed by employees, and two felony charges that will likely be dismissed.
In addition, state lawmakers in 2012 passed a law targeting such businesses.
Officials and police in nearby Bridgeport, for example, who had lobbied the state to impose stricter regulations on massage parlors, used the new law to shut down 10 massage parlors last December.
Riccio said Friday that it would have been easier for Fairfield police to target Deidra’s using the new law.
While sending undercover officers into the business for a year and a half was “unusual,” the tactic was not unheard of.
Fairfield Police did not return several calls seeking comment on the investigation in the weeks after the business was raided.
They Can Do That?
Two former cops the Valley Indy spoke to in the weeks after March raid said it’s not too unusual for undercover officers to pose as customers of prostitutes — and get up close and personal with their targets — though it’s not an assignment cops look forward to.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired Detective Sergeant from the New York Police Department and adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said in March it’s a common misconception that cops are prohibited from doing things like disrobing while working undercover.
“If you’re going into a house of prostitution, you’re going to be expected to get naked, or semi-naked,” Giacalone said.
In his experience, cops never volunteered in droves for such assignments.
“It’s not glamorous like you see on television,” Giacalone said. “It could be quite unnerving.”
John DeCarlo, a former Branford Police Chief now teaching at the University of New Haven’s Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, agreed.
DeCarlo said one of his first assignments as a rookie Branford cop in the 70s was going undercover to try to solicit a prostitute.
Though “part of the job,” DeCarlo said it’s also “delicate, nerve-wracking, and embarrassing.”
Though people can have a stereotypical image of a police officer as a macho tough guy willing to do anything, “when it really happens it’s not something most people are comfortable with in the police department, in my experience.”