There may be some extenuating circumstances in this case, depending on how the facts play out. But the prospect of a special law enforcement task force taking newspaper employees into custody on racketeering charges based on the content of its advertising is antithetical to the precepts of the free speech guarantee. Rick Schreiber, publisher of the Orlando Weekly, staunchly defended his publication and his employees, and asserted that the arrests were made as a form of payback for negative coverage of the MBI that the Orlando Weekly has carried over the years. Subscribe to XBIZ newsletters.
You are now logged in. Forgot your password? Police in Orlando today arrested three employees of the Orlando Weekly on charges of aiding and abetting prostitution. The three worked in the paper's classified section. Police say they were helping the city's escorts and massages parlors write coded ads to attract johns while escaping detection from police.
The free alternative paper is calling the arrests an assault on the First Amendment — an argument that might not fly in court, given that investigators say they videotaped Weekly employees selling ad space to undercover officers who openly claimed to be prostitutes. But Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, said he has heard of only one other similar case, and it involved only one employee and no charges against the newspaper. The Weekly has decried the arrests as retaliation for running stories critical of the MBI. The paper has extensively chronicled allegations that during investigations of strip-club prostitution and drug sales, MBI officers groped dancers, mishandled evidence and spent a lot of time in nightspots with little results.