Charges Filed Over `Escort' Ring -- Man Is Accused In 50-Count Indictment

A 50-count indictment filed by federal prosecutors provides a view of prostitution far more complex and businesslike than the stereotypical, street-corner confrontation and "Are you dating?"

The indictment filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle tells of "escorts" being dispatched to homes, motels and hot-tub parlors; of credit cards and money laundering; and of prostitutes paying 40 percent of their $150-an-hour fee to a mastermind who had more than 7,000 customers.

Robert Bennett, 38, is accused of operating escort services in the Seattle area for more than 10 years before he was arrested in October 1992.

He was indicted on five counts of credit-card fraud, 19 counts of money laundering, 25 counts of violating the federal travel act by running illegal enterprises involving interstate commerce and one count of racketeering.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Angelo Calfo said prosecutors filed charges under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statue rather than under state anti-prostitution laws, in part so they could seize Bennett's property.

The indictment claims Bennett had credit-card and personal-check receipts of more than $1.3 million from 1987 to 1992. Prosecutors seek forfeiture of the money and have filed a separate civil action claiming seven homes owned by Bennett.

The prosecutors said Bennett operated escort services that were advertised under the names Personality Services and Elite Escorts. They say that he hired more than 50 women as escorts and that the escort services had more than 7,000 customers.

Several of the customers are identified, by last name only, in the indictment.

Prosecutors also allege the escorts engaged in sex acts after receiving their fees and then gave 40 percent of the proceeds to Bennett.

For his part, Bennett would accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express, according to the indictment. Some of the charges against him accuse him of falsely obtaining merchant accounts, claiming to be catering and limousine services, to process the credit cards.

Although prosecutors had brought complaints against Bennett previously, this is the first time he has been indicted by a grand jury.

Bennett first was arrested in 1992 after a two-year investigation, but four months later, prosecutors dismissed the charges, saying they needed more time to investigate.

At the time, authorities said the names of the escorts services' customers were contained in a database seized by police in 13 raids one weekend. Seattle vice officers acted as "johns" as part of the investigation.

Sixteen people were arrested at the time, of whom two others, Allen Leon Stalcup, 44, and his wife, Mary Rebecca Stalcup, 51, of Bellevue pleaded guilty to federal charges. Others were charged in Superior Court.

Bennett is to be arraigned Nov. 3.