On May 12, the Lonoke County sheriff's office arrested two women and one man, all charged with prostitution or the solicitation thereof, in the sleepy, prosperous Greystone neighborhood of Cabot.
The bust grabbed quick headlines. Two women allegedly running an Internet-advertised prostitution business in an unlikely setting was a natural. But questions linger about how law enforcement officials finally made a case to try to stop it.
The final chapter isn't written. Charges are pending, defendants have lawyers prepared to fight them and the outcome may not be as open and shut as many had assumed.
The basics, from a Lonoke County sheriff's news release, are simple enough. Deputies served a search warrant at 105 Ridgecrest Square in the Greystone subdivision. Arrested there were 33-year-old A.E. Samontry and 40-year-old Pornpiemon Phouangmany, U.S. citizens of Laotian descent. A 46-year-old North Little Rock man, Jerry Richard, was arrested for patronizing a prostitute. The investigation began because of complaints from neighbors about the amount of traffic in the neighborhood.
The suspects were quickly released on bond. The offenses are misdemeanors, with relatively minor penalties.
Further reporting raised interesting angles in the case. For one, the man charged with solicitation does not fit the typical john-prostitute profile. He's the former husband of one of the women.
The setting has media appeal. Greystone is a quiet slice of suburbia on Cabot's northwest side, off Highway 5. It's full of new brick homes and borders a country club with a lush golf course. Lawns are manicured, driveways are swept and little bicycles with pink tassels hanging from the handlebars lie on their sides in front yards along the street. It is a far cry from the seamy "strolls" of big cities where prostitutes gather. (Think the gritty portions of Roosevelt Road in Little Rock, a historic hotspot for the flesh trade.)
"I've been with the sheriff's office for 16 years and this is the first prostitution case that I've worked, I guess you could say," says Lt. Jim Kulesa with the sheriff's office. "It was a surprise and the media and public response to it has been, well, I guess everybody thought it was kind of funny. It's not something you see every day."
The women who were arrested have said they were running a massage business out of their home. They do not appear on the state list of licensed massage therapists.
The women have entered not guilty pleas. A sign that once sat on the side of Highway 5 advertising the business has been taken down. Advertisements were also placed on the site backpage.com, one of many Internet site like Craigslist where classifieds and personal ads can be placed, but the Cabot ads are no longer there. There remain, however, many other suggestive ads from women in Arkansas offering massage and other intimate services. (The Arkansas Times has a link to backpage.com classifieds in many categories, but not sexually related ads.)
Kevin Blakely lived next door and rented the house to the two women for two years. He said it's possible the women could have been running a legitimate business, but the circumstantial evidence suggested otherwise.
"Until somebody can prove that they were doing something illegal it's just hearsay," Blakely says. "As we started to really pay attention, because of the frequency of the cars, your mind starts to wonder if it's drugs or what it could be. But after three or four months of watching them you're pretty sure what's going on, because it's always one male in the vehicle and he's always there for 45 minutes or an hour. So after awhile you think about it and you only come to the one conclusion. I think the police feel they have enough evidence."