Maui police arrest 12 "johns" over the last two weekends

Despite negligible prostitution arrests in previous years, Maui vice officers conducted their first reverse sting operation over the past two weekends, netting a dozen alleged potential customers.

Undercover officers posing as streetwalkers targeted the demand rather than the supply in what the Maui Police Department dubbed Operation Reversal of Fortune, arresting 12 alleged "johns" in two areas.

Vice officers arrested three men Friday in Lahaina, and nine over the Sept. 7-8 weekend in Wailuku.

That means Maui police have arrested more "johns" in the last two weeks than prostitutes in the last seven years.

"We don't have a significant problem with prostitution," conceded vice squad Capt. Gerald Matsunaga.

He gave two reasons for conducting the sting.

"One is, we wanted to curtail any prostitution activity occurring anywhere in Maui County. No. 2 is to gather intelligence in prostitution activity in Maui County."

He described intelligence efforts as "an ongoing thing" that spans the worlds of prostitution, drugs and gambling.

Maui police have conducted numerous undercover sting operations to catch prostitutes, he said.

However, "it's the first time we've utilized the reverse sting, where we targeted johns," Matsunaga said. "They all, of course, deny it, like anybody else."

The sting operation did not require a lot of manpower, he added. On average, seven to eight officers were used each night.

Matsunaga would not disclose whether the undercover officers were male or female.

Police also would not reveal when more prostitution sting operations might be expected.

Maui police arrested two suspected prostitutes last year, two in 2005, none in 2004, one in 2003, one in 2002, none in 2001 and five in 2000.