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Home / agencies / Cell phone records linked to prostitution probe shake southern Arizona politics

Cell phone records linked to prostitution probe shake southern Arizona politics

prostitutionIf you’re a well-known Republican from south of the Gila River, there’s a good chance your name is listed in police documents alongside hundreds of “Johns” suspected of frequenting a Tucson prostitution ring.

None have been charged with a crime and many are outraged that they are on the list.

The Tucson City Attorney’s Office recently made public a massive tome of police records listing all the contacts saved in seven cellphones police seized during an investigation into a string of prostitution dens masquerading as massage parlors.

Six of those phones belonged to suspected prostitutes. The seventh belonged to Shaun McClusky, the second-vice chair of the Pima County Republican Party, who briefly ran for mayor in 2011 and now runs a property management business. All the politicos who appear on the police document are in connection with McClusky’s phone. The Tucson City Attorney’s Office redacted all of the actual phone numbers associated with the contacts listed in the seven seized phones.

tucson prostitution sting numbersMcClusky has not been charged with any crime. He said he was investigated, and later cleared of wrongdoing, by Tucson police because he is a property manager for one of the houses used as an illegal massage parlor.

A Department of Public Safety investigation paints a different picture, citing one of the massage parlor operator’s allegations that McClusky was a client, and a confidential informant’s claim that he traded services for discounts on rent.

When the police seized McClusky’s phone, it was jam-packed with contacts from his business and political circles, and those contacts ended up on a list right next to contacts kept in the masseuses’ phones – many of whom appeared to be customers of the illegal massage parlors.

The “call log” list is littered with a who’s who of southern Arizona Republicans, but it also reaches across political parties and across the state.

It contains the names of more than a dozen lawmakers and former lawmakers, several members of the Tucson City Council and Pima County Board of Supervisors, a sheriff, a member of Congress, a statewide elected official, several top political staffers and appointees, local political activists, TV and print journalists – and of course, hundreds of suspected johns stored in contacts lists with names like “Big Boy,” “John owes $160” or “Do Not Answer (Crazy Wife).”

None of the politicos or suspected Johns has been charged with any crime, and police are quick to point out that inclusion on the list “is in no way indicative of illegal activity.”

But it doesn’t feel that way to Republican Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley.

Finchem had been following some of the news about the prostitution ring in Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, but never imagined he would be included in the list of contacts.

The story has been a continuing front-page topic in the Star. At least 10 Tucson Police officers were investigated for allegedly using the erotic massage services. Five officers have since been fired for their involvement, and two others resigned before a Department of Public Safety investigation into Tucson Police Department officers’ involvement in the prostitution ring wrapped up.

Finchem knew police had accused McClusky of being involved in the prostitution ring, and that they had made a list of people who could be associated with the ring, including many politicians.

When he found out he was on that list, he was furious and threatened to call his attorney to see what he could do about it.

“I think the Tucson Police Department has been utterly irresponsible in the way they’ve managed this case and the information that is being released,” he said. “It’s beyond irresponsible to have my name associated with something like that.”

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik was the first to sound the alarm on what he calls the “Johns list.”

The day before releasing the documents, City Attorney Mike Rankin gave Kozachik a heads-up that he was named on the list as a contact in McClusky’s phone.

Kozachik was distressed to find out that, by virtue of having his cell phone number saved in a political adversary’s phone, he ended up on a list of people allegedly linked to a prostitution ring. Media outlets, including this one, have declined to publish the names of anyone on the list because nobody has been charged with a crime. But in the social media age, Kozachik worried that a renegade blogger would publish the list without context or a Twitter user would tweet that Kozachik is involved with a prostitution ring.

So the next day, Kozachik publically demanded the city attorney investigate him or clear his name. Rankin’s office responded that there are no charges against Kozachik, and therefore nothing to clear him from.

That satisfied Kozachik’s personal concerns, but it didn’t put the issue to rest.

“What about the other hundred people who have no idea (that they’re on the list)?” he asked. “It’s not just me and it’s not just local people… I mean there are people all up and down the political food chain. People whose names were released to the media in ‘association’ with this investigation who have absolutely no idea their names were given out and who had no connection at all with these massage parlors.”

The fact that the information was released at all has raised all sorts of political conspiracies in and around the Old Pueblo. In a town where Democrats dominate, many Republicans think the City Attorney’s Office decided to release the list simply to discredit conservatives.

And even some Democrats think releasing the list is tantamount to a “three degrees of separation” justice system.

Democratic Sen. Steve Farley of Tucson, who is on the list though he says he’s never spoken to McClusky on the phone and doesn’t have McClusky’s phone number, said the fact that so many innocent people ended up on the list “kind of compromises the justice system – especially for those of us who are in public office who talk to everyone.”

Rankin, the city attorney, said his office didn’t choose which phones to seize, but once the Police Department created the record including contacts from all seized phones, his office had to decide how to handle the release of that public information.

He said due to the high profile nature of the case, members of the media asked for an abundance of information, including the call list. With the basic principle that public records are public and redactions need to be based on a legally defensible reason, his office decided it was required to release the entire contact list, despite knowing that many of the people on that list have nothing to do with the prostitution ring.

“If we were to try to redact people who were pretty clearly not connected to this prostitution industry – the media contacts that McClusky has in his phone or the political contacts – if we started to do that the implication would be that the names we left on there, that we had made some kind of determination that they were implicated, that they were Johns or customers. And we’re not in a position to do that,” he said.

Rankin said he knew that the political figures who are on the list would be upset at having their names in any way associated with a criminal investigation, but if they redacted those names, it could look like his office was giving them cover.

“Then the outcry would be ‘oh, you protected all the political people, but not the Domino’s pizza guy who showed up with a pizza or whatever,’” he said.

But Kozachik said if the Rankin’s goal was to look like he’s not hiding anything, he did “just the opposite.”

Kozachik is quick to say the release of the information stinks of an attempt to put up a smokescreen over who is actually involved.

“If you want to hide something, then create a haystack and make (reporters) to have to dig harder into it to find the people who are really involved,” he said.

He said that the way the information was released – with the actual phone numbers redacted, but stored contact names not redacted – sets up a kind of two-tier system.

McClusky generally stores phone numbers with the actual first and last names of the people who own the numbers. The masseuses, needless to say, often don’t use first and last names of their clients.

Rankin said that the releasing the phone numbers would represent a “higher level of invasion of privacy” than the names alone, and his office determined there was case law supporting their decision to withhold the actual phone numbers, while releasing the names.

But without the numbers, the public will never know if “Big Boy” or “John owes $160” are elected officials or important members of the community.

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