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Pimp Grandad Headed Arizona Prostie Ring

Tempe- Eugene Lau is a slender man with the gentle face of a grandfather. But Tempe police say he’s a pimp. Officers arrested the quiet 68-year-old man – who goes by “Tony” – on Wednesday in front of a Tempe Burger King at Southern and Mill avenues during a bust of a prostitution ring that police say operated from Scottsdale to Tempe.

Police said Lau thought he was meeting a woman looking to work for him. But she was an undercover detective, and Lau was handcuffed.

“He made it clear to me what was expected,” the detective said. “He did ask if I enjoyed sex. He said it makes a difference if the women like sex.”

About 15 minutes after Lau’s arrest, police descended on the Galleria Palms Apartments at 1600 W. La Jolla Drive, where they arrested Patricia Headley, 28, and Carman Bermea, 33, on suspicion of prostitution.

A candle burned near a vase of flowers in one apartment, but it didn’t conceal the smell of stale cigarette smoke that wafted from the unit. One apartment had only a bed, couch and TV – while the other unit didn’t even have a bed.

The arrests continued for hours, marking the end of a four-month investigation called Operation Under Covers. Nearly 40 officers raided five apartments in Tempe and Scottsdale, which they believe were leased by Lau and used for sex.

Five women were taken into custody, and police are searching for at least six others.

The undercover detective said Lau told her she would get 70 percent of the profits for her sex acts, and Lau would get the rest. Clients paid $180 per hour, but longtime clients paid less.

“He explained that I would meet with him one-on-one, and he would be the first customer,” the detective said. “He would give me pointers on what men like.”

Police said they don’t know how long the ring, called Creative Service Referral, operated. But detectives said Lau laundered several hundred thousand dollars through the company during the past 18 months.

Police said the ring averaged about 16 customers each day, seven days a week, meaning Lau could have earned more than $24,000 each month. When Lau was arrested, he had $1,326 cash in his wallet.

But the man also took care of the women who worked for him, police said.

“He definitely has the interest of the girls,” said the undercover detective.

They were well-paid compared with other prostitutes, and Lau offered advice on safe sex, she said. The women also had “meet-and-greets” with clients where they decided if they felt safe with their clients before having sex, police said.

The system worked like this: A client who saw an ad online or in a publication would contact the call center in Phoenix to arrange for a prostitute. Then, the call center operator would send the client to a specific location where he or she would place another call to the center. At that point, the client would be directed to an apartment where a woman would be waiting for him.

Once the client arrived, the meet-and-greet would take place. If the prostitute felt comfortable with the client, she would contact the call center to say she was taking a customer. Forty minutes into the sex acts, the call center would call to check on the woman. At the end of the service she would call back.

“He was very specific about the arrangements,” the detective said.

During the raids, police looked for evidence including financial records, electronic storage devices and currency. Police didn’t find any clients inside the apartments.

The women were booked on suspicion of working for a criminal enterprise and Lau was booked on suspicion of illegally conducting an enterprise. Both are Class 3 felonies that carry up to eight years and nine months in prison.

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