Operation Plastic Empire was the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI) strategy to file state charges at the heels of the IRS Operation Out Call. The operational strategy was a failure, at least at the state level and in respect to the credit card processing. It wasn't a failure in relation to its accompanying toolbox – obtaining the client names from the credit card transactions and intimidating and coercing every defendant to the point that each accepted a plea deal. And then it certainly succeeded in scaring every escort service owner in Orlando that wasn't involved, with the exception of yours truly and two other operators. By the middle of 1996, this place was almost abandoned, in part due to the Amnesty Program, and by January 1997, no escort services remained in the area yellow page books, due to the Yellow Pages Fiasco, as I refer to the MBI setup of advertising representatives.
The many cases involved in this operation were separated for reasons unknown to me. One case had five defendants, several cases had one lone defendant, and another case had nine defendants. There may be additional cases that I'm not aware of with any number of defendants. As my example here I'll use Case Number 96-CF-0011913-0. This is the case with nine defendants, A through I, and it's an Orange County, Florida case that can be found at the Orange County Clerk's Office or the basic filings can be viewed online. The last time that I viewed these files in person there were six volumes, each close to 12 inches thick, and that was without all of the depositions.
The defendants in the case:
Maritza Cascante Bobber – 26 counts
Trevor Banks Campbell – 12 counts
Rhonda Liphart – 6 counts (Rhoda in my book)
Debra Watson – 2 counts (Diana in my book)
Elizabeth Helen Clifton – 12 counts
Christopher Batura – 12 counts
Robin Janeen Dickinson – 20 counts
Joseph Formosa – 14 counts
Steven Voss – 8 counts
Each defendant was charged with Racketeering, a 1st degree felony, and Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering (RICO), also a 1st degree felony. Each first degree felony is punishable by up to 30 years in a Florida prison – that's what these statutes accomplish. The MBI uses them in most prosecutions. Beyond this, every defendant except Debra Watson had at least one count, and most had many counts, of the following:
Unlawful Transport of Currency
Illegal Factoring of Credit Card Transaction
Each charge, and every count, that these defendants faced, is a felony. There were no misdemeanors charged in this case. Maritza Cascante and Joseph Formosa still have a capias (warrant) for their arrests – neither showed for sentencing and both jumped bond. Debra Watson left town the minute that she heard the MBI was looking for her, and was therefore never arrested. Her charges were finally dropped in 2003. The defendants that remained made deals that included probation, jail time, years in prison – it varied, except in each case there was eventually probation. The Violation of Probation (VOP) charges began in 04/1998 and the last VOP was filed in 02/2002. I did know several of these defendants, but one that I did not know contacted me from jail while awaiting trial: Trevor Campbell related much of the information I know about the case that is not findable in the files. He was looking for help to fight the charges and had no intention of pleading guilty to anything. I felt sorry for him, and I did speak to his court-appointed public defender, but the attorney had no real clue how to fight the case and didn't sound like he intended to. At the time I was law-ignorant and there was nothing that I could do to help Trevor.
In the end, statements from the clients of the credit card transactions, including many from out-of-state that I read in the file, convinced these defendants to take the plea deal. As the appeals continued through the Florida court system, pleas to anything relating to signing-up for a merchant services account were tossed out. These files are mixed-up because of this – a judge stated that a defendant could not know that the merchant services operation handled offshore was not legal. This is a fact – I remember Debra Watson's story well. She signed-up and received a package that looked absolutely legal. I saw it. Several defendants had extremely high bonds because of the number of felonies charged and they couldn't get out of jail. Beyond this, it was the intimidation, threats of decades in prison, and court-appointed public defenders that had no clue. This was one of the biggest operations in escort service history, considering the many defendants in the list of cases and the extensive list of felonies charged to each, yet few people have any idea that it existed.
Next: The Amnesty Program