Warning: This story may be graphic for some people. Reader discretion advised.
HORRY CO, S.C. (WBTW) – A file provided by the Horry County solicitor’s office details a private investigator’s sexual encounters at local massage parlors paid for with the public’s tax money.
The investigator was working on behalf of police agencies in Horry County in an undercover operation to expose massage parlors.
News13 obtained a copy of the investigative file so taxpayers fully understand with happened with their tax dollars and why. We are avoiding the most graphic descriptions in this report.
Taxpayers paid for at least 46 sexual encounters at Horry County massage parlors from March 2019 to December 2019, according to the 126-page investigative file.
Battle Law Firm, working for multiple police agencies in Horry County, hired Robison Investigations to investigate massage parlors in Horry County, including “any illicit sexual or money laundering activities.”
The investigators billed $75 per hour plus expenses, such as hotels, mileage, and other expenses “necessary to acquire information as requested by CLIENT.”
With each sexual encounter, the primary investigator said he didn’t let the women finish the sex act he paid for by blaming a medical condition or medication. However, as time went on, his requests escalated. He started to pay for oral sex and more. In one investigation, he asked to pay for a second woman to watch his encounter. “I said I would pay to have her stand in the room,” the report said. He agreed to $40 for that additional service.
One some of his busiest days, the primary investigator used taxpayer money for three sexual encounters in one day.
A second investigator is mentioned near the end of the investigative file. One of his reports leaves open the question of whether he allowed the woman to complete a sex act. His report says he told the woman he “felt better” after the encounter. He paid $100 for the sex act.
Taxpayers paid at least $4,320 for just the sex acts. That doesn’t include the hourly rate of the investigator, the cost of the initial massage, hotel stays for the investigator or any other expenses.
“I may have felt a little uneasy if I was leading the investigation,” said 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson. “But I wasn’t leading the investigation. I took the investigation as it was written and we went upstairs and screamed it to the rooftop what was going on and the 20 businesses were closed.”
According to an expert we spoke with, each case could have moved forward just by the verbal agreement to exchange money. Physical contact was not needed.
Derek Marsh, a human trafficking expert and associate director for the Global Center for Women in Justice, has a background in law enforcement as a former deputy chief of police. “Usually, we try to focus on the idea of the verbal agreement for solicitation,” said Marsh.
“To actually go to the point of performing a sex act or beginning to perform a sex act is usually frowned upon,” Marsh said. “But that was something that was done decades ago.”
When asked about the issues with hiring a private investigator, Marsh said, “That private investigator would not be beholden to any one agency’s particular policies or procedures,” and “maybe they’re just beholden to what they believe is correct or not correct.”
Among the concerns is whether human trafficking victims were involved. The Polaris Project, which runs the national human trafficking hotline, reports massage spas as one of the top venues for human trafficking.
“Once you start working on human trafficking cases, after a while, you never know who’s a victim and who’s not a victim,” said Marsh. “That was the hardest thing we did, when we started investigating those crimes, was to keep our eyes open to think, well, this person could be a victim, not necessarily a suspect in a prostitution crime.”
Solicitor Jimmy Richardson says the information in the report is transparent and if law enforcement wants to go for human trafficking charges, they can. He says prosecutors were only tasked with shutting down nuisance business.
Richardson says the primary investigator has since died. All of the massage parlors remain closed.