INDIANAPOLIS - Felony charges have been lodged against a Marion County Jail inmate, accused of running an online prostitution ring from the cellblock phones inside the lockup.
Vice squad officers said they have recordings of phone calls and receipts showing that a known prostitute started depositing money into his jail commissary account after the inmate gave her detailed instructions of how to handle the business.
Joseph Ward, 30, had originally been arrested in a prostitution sting that the Call 6 Investigators covered back in July. He was accused of arranging online ads that offered sex with an adult film actress, who was also arrested in the sweep.
Ward was originally booked under the name he provided at the time, Maliq Watkins, but police have since found out his real name. Officers filed new charges of identity deception last week based on his use of another name during that arrest.
Police said their investigation into Ward also prompted them to listen in on recorded jailhouse phone calls he had with a different woman who was also arrested in that July sting.
In a probable cause affidavit filed against him in court, police wrote that he told her how to use his login name to place ads on two separate websites, including Backpage.com.
Police said he told the woman to buy condoms after placing the ads, and he instructed her how to watch out for certain traits that might indicate that an undercover police officer was answering the ads.
While handcuffed inside the Marion County Jail for an interview, Ward told the Call 6 Investigators that he did nothing illegal.
“They don’t have me saying anything about ‘go do this for money’ or ‘go perform this act for money.’ Promoting prostitution is knowing that somebody’s having sex with somebody for money and there’s nothing…about me saying anything about anything like that whatsoever,” he said.
Ward said he has never been arrested for promoting prostitution in the past, but police said he has a felony warrant outstanding for promoting prostitution in Nashville, Tenn.
He declined to talk about his original arrest with the purported X-rated film actress in July, but he said he was simply asking his other associate to raise money for him to hire lawyers without specifying how she would do that.
“I didn’t tell her to go do anything to raise the money. How she raises the money, that’s up to her and how she does it. I don’t tell her how or what to do to raise any money. There’s nothing in the transcript that says, ‘hey this is what you need to be doing to raise me some money’…..No,” Ward said.
In court papers, police wrote that he told his known prostitute associate where to rent hotel rooms and “gave detailed instructions…on posting escort/prostitution advertisements.” They said he told her when to post the ads “to maximize her publicity to potential clients.”
Police said he warned her to use untraceable pre-paid phones to set up the meetings.
The woman who was receiving the instructions, Lacey Strand, 21, of Indianapolis, was booked for prostitution yet again on October 31, just a few days after police said she received some of his instructions from the cellblock.
“I didn’t say anything about ‘go sell yourself.’ That’s prostitution. She could be dancing, doing private shows, she can be a stripper, she can be a masseuse…anything like that,” Ward said.
Police wrote in their court papers that their evidence against the suspected jailhouse pimp was not limited to his recorded phone calls.
Police said that when Strand was arrested the second time a few weeks ago, they found written letters with a return address that included Ward’s inmate number and name from the Marion County Jail.
“The letters contained written instructions from Mr. Ward about how to post advertisements, avoid detection by law enforcement and other details similar to Mr. Ward’s phone conversations with Ms. Strand,” officers wrote.
Police said he urged her to avoid undercover police officers by asking to see a work identification card or business card, and to look for any police equipment like a badge, a radio or handcuffs.
“Telling somebody to post on a site doesn’t mean that you’re telling them to go have sex for money.” Ward countered.
When asked by the Call 6 Investigators whether he used code words or slang to conceal instructions about sex, he answered, “Not even code words about having sex with anybody. Nothing like that is used.”
Ward said authorities were stacking up new charges against him to retaliate for his running away and fighting with officers during his original arrest in July, which resulted in battery and resisting arrest charges in addition to his promotion of prostitution counts.
When asked why all these charges would be piled onto an innocent man, Ward said authorities were following through with a threat because he has refused several plea bargain offers to plead guilty in exchange for prison time.
“If they had me like they claim that they do, then why did they drop the plea three or four different times?” he said.
“OK, if you got me doing something wrong, then just take me to trial and get whatever you need to get done, but you dropped the plea three different times, and then you threaten me, well if I don’t take the plea, then you’re going to file more charges on me,” Ward said.
Ward said he has turned down offers to plead guilty in exchange for a 4-year prison sentence. He said prosecutors then offered a 3-year sentence and a 2-year sentence but he turned them all down.
IMPD headquarters declined to make the investigating officer available for an interview, but the officer wrote in his court filing that Ward asked the known prostitute to raise $5,000 to $6,000 so that he could hire an attorney and get out of jail “by Christmas.”
Police said they traced a $1,200 deposit into Ward’s inmate account with Strand’s name tied to it.
His inmate account had a balance of $1,076.58 when officers seized the funds last week to begin civil forfeiture proceedings. That process could allow police to keep the money if they can prove it was tied to a criminal enterprise.
Police said Ward was using the money raised from prostitution to order specific upgraded food menu items in jail.
He faced a judge on the new felony charges earlier this week, with court records now showing all of the charges against him awaiting trial.
Ward offered one other reason for his growing legal problems, and he referred to the accused prostitute who has now been arrested for providing the money.
“If I wasn’t a black male and my codefendant wasn’t a white female, I don’t think that they would be after me the way that they are,” he said.