January 11, 2014 in City

Spokane-area prostitution sting case advancing

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The toughest criminal charges to date in a multiagency prostitution sting have been filed against the owner of an alleged Spokane Valley brothel, almost two years after “Operation Red Light” began.

Brandy Birkland, 34, former co-owner of Montana’s spa on East Trent Avenue, was booked into Spokane County Jail on Thursday. Police arrested her after prosecutors, looking to wrap up the long-running case, were unable to contact her, according to investigators.

Birkland faces a charge of leading organized crime, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. She previously was arrested on lesser charges of promoting prostitution and money laundering.

Montana’s was one of eight alleged Spokane brothels raided in July 2012, a multiagency bust of businesses catering to pay-for-sex customers that started after complaints from Northern Quest Casino employees.

The investigation was launched by the Airway Heights Police Department, which began recruiting suspected prostitutes as confidential informants to go after the ringleaders of the alleged racket. Airway Heights Police Detective Kelly Justice said Friday that Birkland was arrested because prosecutors hadn’t heard from her as investigators look to wrap up legal action against the businesses within the next month.

“This thing should be coming to a close relatively soon, with either charges and/or pleas,” Justice said.

An informant working for the department applied for a job at Montana’s in April 2012, according to court documents. When asked by a manager, identified as “Jewell,” whether she’d worked in a spa before, the informant replied only that she’d received work through an online website known by police as a bulletin board for solicitations.

“Well, you know what goes on here,” the manager told the informant in reply, according to court documents. A subsequent police search of the business by Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputies revealed condoms and other items thought to have been used in promoting prostitution.

Law enforcement agents from the Kalispel Tribal Public Safety Department, Department of Homeland Security and Washington state Gambling Commission also assisted in the raids.

Birkland’s business associate, Mikal Chandler, remains at large but is also wanted, Justice said. The legal process has stretched into another year, raising red flags about defendants who have gone off the radar, he added.

“That’s the concern, whenever you go into a lengthy investigation like this,” Justice said.

Birkland was granted monitored release without bail by a Spokane County judge Friday. Her attorney dismissed notions Birkland had failed to remain in contact with prosecutors and said his client delivered a child two weeks ago.

Staff writers Jody Lawrence-Turner and Nina Culver contributed to this report.


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