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Criminal charges dismissed against owners of Web site

Sunday, January 12, 2003

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- A judge has dismissed conspiracy charges against two owners of an Internet escort service and racketeering charges against four women linked to the site because they were denied their right to a speedy trial.

Felony defendants have a right to trial within 175 days of arrest, and the charges thrown out Friday involved defendants arrested in June. Prosecutors said they would appeal.

The delays were largely the result of the state's efforts to keep confidential the identities of six witnesses, some married, well-known figures in Tampa area business and politics. Judge Debra Behnke ruled in October that the six witnesses' names must be made public.

The cases were scheduled to go to trial in December, but Behnke postponed them on the grounds that prosecutors had not fully complied with her order regarding the witnesses' names.

Eight defendants still face charges ranging from racketeering to prostitution, but the owners were the main targets of the two-year investigation.

Charles S. Kelly and Steve Lipson owned a Web site that carried advertising from prostitutes and billed itself as "The Net's No. 1 Escort Resource." Customers paid to access the solicitations.

Kelly and Lipson were charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering. Defense attorneys argued the site is protected under the First Amendment right to free speech.


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