Thomas and Police Have Tight Grip on Names of "Prominent" Johns in Prostitution Ring

Dr. Ross Lavatter, accused of helping run the largest prostitution ring in state history

By Ray Stern

It's been two days since Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced that "big name clients" were among the suspected johns of an alleged prostitution ring busted this week. Another newspaper article quotes authorities saying the lists of clients includes "many prominent names."

No names have been released yet, and police say it may take "weeks" or "months" to get the information out. They have to look through ledgers, computer drives, credit card receipts and other seized records. Thomas says some of the johns could face prosecution based on that evidence.

In the midst of a tense election season, though, the stated timeframe is troubling.

The November election is fewer than 90 days away, and early voting already begun for the September primaries. It would seem the public has a compelling right to know -- ASAP -- whether any candidates for public office are on the list.

At least one of the alleged ringleaders has shown some interest in politics. Ross Levatter, a radiologist and division director at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix, gave $675 in the mid-1990s to Republican campaigns, according to a report by Did Levatter ever mix it up with local politicans -- and more importantly, did those politicans know any of the young women who allegedly worked for the ring?

Voters would have a right to be upset if they elect someone who, four months from now, turned out to have been a frequent customer of the "Desert Divas." Sure, you may believe prostitution should be legal or even socially acceptable. But don't you want to know if your favorite "family values" candidate is a hypocrite, like former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer?

You might also be interested to know whether County Attorney Thomas has any political friends or enemies on the list -- a situation that would raise some interesting ethical questions. For instance, if a Thomas ally who's running for re-election is on the list, would it be appropriate to hold that information until after the votes are tallied?

Releasing the list presents problems by itself. Innocent people could be on it. (Maybe the prostitutes, when filling out their ledgers, playfully assigned their johns the names of local politicians). But there's no way around it -- the people who match "prominent" names on the list will be subject to public scrutiny and lots of questions by the news media.

With elections around the corner, there's no time like the present to begin that scrutiny.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.