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The drawn-out investigation of King County intelligence cop Dan Ring not only netted no convictions against him, but likely allowed two of Seattle's most prominent escort services to skirt prosecution, perhaps even avoid investigations.

Each of the escort services' madams - Lisa Gorrin, 48, and Rhonda Wallace, 48 - garnered immunity agreements from King County prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation to implicate Ring in a prostitution-related criminal charge.

It was information provided by each woman that enabled prosecutors to build that charge.

One of the madams told authorities how Ring used his police position and tools to warn her about police stings, offer advice to avoid prosecution, and tip her off to the undercover identity of a Seattle vice cop. And both women said Ring provided them with restricted information on people they asked him to check out.

Each madam was set to testify against Ring - who denies their allegations - when his case was set to go to trial earlier this year.

But, after more than two years of investigation, all criminal charges against Ring - including the misdemeanor promoting prostitution count - were dropped just three days before trial and after Ring agreed to retire. High-level prosecutors agreed his leaving the Sheriff's Office was sufficient punishment in lieu of an unpredictable trial outcome.

Last week, King County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Mark Larson said he has no indication that any member of a criminal justice agency is protecting either madam in any way. He noted the deals provided by his office to both women granted them limited immunity, within the narrow scope of their involvement with Ring.

"It covers the things they would have to testify about in terms of any illegal activities they may have engaged in," Larson said.

But Larson also acknowledged he knows of no cases or charges brought forward against either woman since their cooperation in the Ring case.

And both women continue operating prominent escort services in the Seattle area.

Before the investigation into Ring unfolded in late 2001 - in part, because Gorrin informed a Seattle police officer that Ring showed up one night on her doorstep drunk, distraught and demanding a bath - local vice detectives quietly and independently had been building cases against both madams.

Detectives had arrested and flipped some of Wallace's escorts against her. And undercover cops were watching Gorrin's house, in a preliminary investigation that went nowhere.

But when each woman began helping authorities in the Ring investigation, the cases against them were put on hold.

Authorities didn't want to complicate the fragile relationships they had with each woman. And as the Ring case lurched toward trial, each woman continued to operate escort businesses.

Meanwhile, any evidence already gathered against them was turning cold.

"These things were being delayed for 2 1/2 years," recalled Harvey Sloan, then a Seattle police vice detective. "We were basically twiddling our thumbs and waiting for this Ring thing to go to trial. Then lo and behold, it never goes to trial.

"And so, here we are, 2 1/2 years later, and the two biggest madams in Seattle are still running free and loose."

Wallace last week denied knowing of any sort of systemic police protection of adult-entertainment businesses. "If that was going on, I'd like to get in on that plan," she said.

But she acknowledged that what she described as her "I'll scratch-your-back, you-scratch-mine" relationship with Ring likely kept her in business.

"Escort services are legal," said Gorrin, who stated hers is a successful business but nowhere near the area's largest. "I don't run a prostitution ring. I'm involved in companionship."

Gorrin met Ring in 1999, though records show he'd been an officer involved in her arrest on prostitution charges in 1986. Gorrin said that arrest was long ago. She said none of her employees has been arrested for prostitution, which law enforcement officials confirmed.

Gorrin said Ring helped her only once, checking whether a boyfriend of one of her escorts was on probation, which Ring confirmed he was. Unlike what Wallace claims, Gorrin said she and Ring didn't have a relationship where he was tipping her off to stings, though she did provide him with information.

"As far as him protecting me," Gorrin said, "he did the opposite."

"Criminal activity, like any economic venture, responds to market forces," said Brian La France, a Kitsap County detective who has investigated Wallace. "Police investigations have a role in suppressing criminal activity by making it too expensive. If escort services can't recruit because of aggressive undercover enforcement, they can't work.

"But if police organizations turn a blind eye, such services will respond to the market and supply to those who don't fear enforcement."

Escort services serve a fairly high-income market. Costs can range into the thousands for some encounters. Services typically check the backgrounds of their clients and keep information on them, which La France said lends itself to blackmail.

"Any police officer or politician who manages to get himself filmed while engaging in illegal activity, especially this kind, has handed himself over to a criminal organization for their use and enjoyment," he said.

During the bust of the Garden of Eden escort service last year, the Sheriff's Office said it netted a "black book" rife with names of high-profile company executives, among others.

"Men need to remember that patronizing a prostitute is illegal," said Vice Detective Ed Draper in a Sheriff's Office news release at the time. "As such, we are also investigating johns. If your name is in their black book, you should expect a visit from a detective, and perhaps criminal charges as well."

No customers have been charged in the case. The Sheriff's Office is "still going through the trick book," said department spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart. He said letters have been sent to people on the list, informing them their name came up in an escort-service investigation and asking them to contact the sheriff. He said they've had some responses from lawyers representing people on the list.

Running a prostitution ring is a felony. Patronizing is a misdemeanor.

Ring said escort services stay alive by informing on others. Police and sheriff departments "simply don't investigate (escort services) when they know criminal activity is going on," Ring said. "It's an unspoken thing." P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky contributed to this report.
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