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District Attorney Ben David and Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous have asked the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to investigate possible criminal activity in a year-old prostitution operation conducted by agents with the Wilmington Police Department (WPD).
SBI Spokeswoman Noelle Talley on Friday confirmed SBI agents planned to open an investigation into the March 2012 undercover prostitution operation.
Evangelous on Wednesday said the undercover operation was in response to a citizen complaint about a prostitution operation involving escort services. In response to that complaint, members of the narcotics enforcement unit came up with a “unique approach” in an attempt to address the issue, he said.
Nine months after the narcotics team conducted the operation, WPD launched an internal investigation into the prostitution operation.
“I together with Chief Ralph Evangelous with the Wilmington Police Department have jointly requested outside assistance by the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the allegations that have arisen over the last few days in the press regarding a botched vice operation from last year.
“The integrity of the system is paramount in our investigation. We want to restore any confidence that might be lost and maintain the integrity that many still have for the law enforcement and the courts in this district,” David said.
The internal investigation of the narcotics enforcement team revealed inadequate documentation of funds, poor and ineffective supervision of the operation and a “code of silence” cover-up, Evangelous said.
The investigation also revealed that at least one officer overindulged in alcohol during the operation, and a camera used in the narcotics team’s investigation was never recovered.
“So the familiar refrain that I have said in cases like this is we’re going to have instances like this from time to time, which test our resolve. It is important to remember that there is established protocol in place when something like this happens.
“The thousand officers that are on the street in the 20 different police agencies I advise, the vast majority are great public servants who I’m privileged to work with, who I would trust with my very life and I hope you do, too,” David said.
City officials are currently auditing the more than $2,000 in city funds that were used in the operation, Evangelous said.
“Unfortunately, the operation was conducted poorly, and mistakes were made,” Evangelous said.
“I have total confidence in the SBI that they will do a thorough, fair, complete investigation, and we will realize what those facts are and I’m sure the DA will march forward with it,” Evangelous said.
Several officers were demoted and one was suspended without pay as a result of the investigation, but Evangelous would not release any information about the officers involved.
Port City Daily has made a public records request for the officers’ public personnel information, which is public record pursuant to North Carolina General Statute 160A-168.