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28 accused of soliciting prostitutes in Massachusetts sex ring could be identified in court

Access granted for hearings against 28 alleged sex buyers in Massachusetts brothel bust
Access granted for hearings against 28 alleged sex buyers in Massachusetts brothel bust 03:28

MEDFORD – Cambridge police are seeking criminal charges against 28 alleged clients of a highly publicized sex ring under federal investigation, and the public will be have some access to information that comes from the proceedings.

The three alleged ring leaders of the so-called brothel in Massachusetts and Virginia were arrested in early November. All are currently behind bars and face several federal criminal charges.

When the brothel bust was first announced, U.S. Attorney Joshua Levy would not identify the alleged clients, only claiming that they include high-powered elected officials, doctors, lawyers, accountants and more. 

Weeks later, Cambridge Police say they are seeking criminal charges in state court against 28 alleged clients who participated in the brothel. 

Because these men have not been arrested, they are entitled to a probable cause hearing in Cambridge District Court, during which a clerk magistrate judge will listen to evidence to determine whether there is probable cause to file criminal charges.

Typically, these probable cause hearings are private. But due to media requests, a clerk magistrate will grant the press access, meaning the "johns" could be identified soon.

"The presumption of show cause hearings being closed and protecting the privacy rights of individuals accused of misdemeanor crimes has been a long-standing and important practice of the Court," Clerk Magistrate Sharon Shelfer Casey wrote. "However, the Court has recognized the very limited exception where legitimate public interest outweighs the individuals' privacy rights."

While the hearings will be public, the names of the potential defendants – and any evidence against them – will not be, until probable cause is found, according to the court. It's unclear so far how this will work, but it appears that the hearings will be scheduled and made public, while no names will be involved until the hearings actually happen.

"Once their name is out there, it affects their whole family," said criminal defense attorney Ben Urbelis, who says he is representing some men concerned that they could be on the list of potential clients. Urbelis would not identify his clients nor say how many there are, but said he has been working with them since news first broke of the sting at the federal level. 

"I think that public officials are held to a higher standard…so I understand it from that perspective," he said. "But it's unfortunate that the regular people who are putting themselves out there are now tied up in this…[public hearings are] not only going to affect the people accused but their families as well… [including their] children in schools who will be humiliated," he said.

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who heads the Women's and Children's Advocacy Project at New England Law, said the decision to publicize typically private hearings is the right one. 

"This is really public accountability 101," she said. 

Murphy had previously told WBZ-TV anchor David Wade in a segment that aired in early November that she would "eat her shoe" if the johns were named, saying "it's never going to happen."

In a follow up interview, Murphy said, "The way to stop sex trafficking – the best way – and the studies show this over and over again is to stop the demand. We have to identify the men who are using and abusing these women…name them. shame them blame them, and that's how we tame them."

Soliciting a prostitute is a misdemeanor offense in Massachusetts, punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

Urbelis said he's relieved to see this is being handled in the lowest level court. 

"A lot of these individuals who may or may not have been involved didn't really understand that this was a sex trafficking operation," he said. "The leaders of the operation — the alleged leaders who have been indicted — turns out they were sort of hiding that fact that these women were being trafficked."

Cambridge District Court, which is actually in Medford, is currently starting the process of scheduling these probable cause hearings. 

WBZ-TV plans to stay on top of the process and will update this story and others as more information becomes available.

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