FARGO - Police say they have arrested two 19-year-old female strippers for prostitution, in a sting operation that focused on exotic dancing.
The investigation began after customers complained to police, Police Sgt. Patrick Claus said Thursday.
"We had complaints from people who wanted dancers for a party and received more information than they bargained for," Claus said.
Police from Fargo and West Fargo, along with the Cass County Sheriff's Department and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, set up a joint sting operation in southwest Fargo, Claus said. The women were arrested Wednesday night. Official charges were pending Thursday.
Police said the dancers worked for separate companies, Eligance Dancers and Midnight Heat, both of Fargo.
Eligance owner Virginia Eli referred questions to her lawyer, Jeff Bredahl. A woman who answered the phone at Midnight Heat said she had no comment and hung up.
Bredahl, who also is representing the Eligance Dancers employee arrested for prostitution, said an undercover police officer tried to "induce and entrap" his client into sex acts, but she rejected him.
"When the facts are laid out on the table for a jury to consider, they will find her not guilty," he said.
Both women agreed to sex for money at a Fargo hotel, Claus said. He would not say if money was exchanged.
Bredahl, however, said, "Our investigation shows that the individual thwarted the efforts by the city of Fargo and the city of Fargo paid her 20 bucks. Our evidence also shows there were no acts of touching or no prostitution of any type."
Claus said police have linked exotic dancers to criminal cases including theft and drug possession. One woman has an earlier conviction for possession of methamphetamine but there have been no other charges, Bredahl said.
"Eligance Dancers has been conducting business lawfully and legally for the past two years," Bredahl said. "They have performed thousands of dances and there has never been a complaint by a customer of any wrongdoing by a dancer."
Eligance has 16 dancers under contract, Bredahl said. An Eligance Dancers Web site carries the disclaimer, "This is adult entertainment for dancing only and is not a solicitation for sex."
A prostitution charge is a Class B misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
"Prostitution cases come up from time to time in North Dakota, but not very often," Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said. He said those cases typically are associated with exotic dancing.
In 1998, authorities arrested four dancers on prostitution charges in the town of Crosby, along the Canadian border in northwestern North Dakota. They said then that an investigation was launched after reports about the dancers began circulating around town.
The operation of prostitution houses is a felony, Stenehjem said. Although there is no specific law about solicitation, Stenehjem said, it is possible for customers to be charged under a conspiracy statute.
The investigation is continuing, Claus said.
"I don't know if this will be good or bad for business," Claus said. "But every time one of these businesses receives a phone call, they will be wondering if that's a cop on the line."