By LOUIS FLORES
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has investigated another online sex business and arrested the owner of 58 Web sites allegedly advertising escort services.
The registrant of the Web sites, Michael Rizzi, age 44 of Brooklyn, is a former New York Police Department officer, who retired in 2000 on a disability pension after having worked on the force for nine years.
The criminal complaint, which contained information presented as allegations, was filed with U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo on Friday, but the arrest was not executed until Tuesday morning. Mr. Rizzi was scheduled to initially appear before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Viktor Pohorelsky Tuesday afternoon.
The Federal criminal case against Mr. Rizzi was based on allegations that Mr. Rizzi had essentially continued the online sex business of Marc Schulman, a Staten Island resident, who was arrested in 2014 and pleaded guilty in 2015 and sentenced to one year and one day in prison for having laundered over $1 million through his business, Pure Platinum Models, according to the criminal complaint.
The criminal complaint against Mr. Rizzi also alleged that he used the same physical address as Mr. Schulman’s companies ; that Mr. Rizzi’s company, Manhattan Stakes and Entertainment, had made payments to some of Mr. Schulman’s companies ; that Mr. Rizzi and his company paid the GoDaddy.com Web site registration fees previously paid by Mr. Schulman’s companies, ; Mr. Rizzi’s company had employed past employees of Mr. Schulman’s companies ; and Mr. Rizzi had employed some of the same sex workers as Mr. Schulman.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s eastern district, which is prosecuting the case, some of the sex workers employed by Mr. Rizzi had allegedly charged as much as $2,000 per hour, several customers had allegedly spent more than $100,000 for Mr. Rizzi’s company’s services, and some clients had paid more than $25,000 for a single night.
Mr. Rizzi has run afoul of the law in the past. In 2009, he was arrested by the Organized Crime Investigation Division of the NYPD for his role in a sports gambling ring. After pleading guilty to a Class A misdemeanor, he paid a fine.
According to a source, Mr. Rizzi was released on $500,000 bail secured by the house owned by his wife, Jill Giuliano-Rizzi. Conditions of his release included ceasing all operations of his company ; ceasing contact with customers, escorts, employees, or potential witnesses ; ceasing use of Web sites, e-mail accounts, or any other business-related domains ; and accepting restrictions on travel, use of passports, or use of firearms.
Mr. Rizzi’s wife is a relative of two individuals, who are reportedly members of the Gambino crime family, according to a report published by The New York Daily News. Her father is “Gambino soldier” Richard Giuliano, Jr., and her uncle is “Gambino capo” Sonny Giuliano, according to The New York Daily News.
The press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that the Government took steps to “restrain” Mr. Rizzi’s Web sites. A random check by Progress Queens confirmed that many Web sites were no longer functioning, excepting for one, www.janeblow.com, which redirected itself to www.eliteclubnyc.com. The press release also announced that the Government had filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of a residence Mr. Rizzi allegedly purchased in Florida with proceeds from his sex business.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer Carapiet, Erik Paulsen, and Claire Kedeshian are assigned to prosecute the case, according to the press release.
The criminal complaint against Mr. Rizzi was sworn out by Myles Mahady, an NYPD detective. Det. Mahady is currently assigned to the El Dorado Tax Force of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
This is the second prominent online sex business that has been targeted for investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in as many years.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security targeted for investigation the online gay community bulletin board, Rentboy.com. That case was met with derision by New York’s LGBT activist community, leading to a large demonstration on 3 September 2015 protesting law enforcement harassment of sexual minorities and calling for the legalization of sex work.
The criminal complaint filed against Mr. Rizzi was no where near as graphic as the criminal complaint unsealed against the Rentboy.com officials. The Rentboy complaint seared with sexually-graphic descriptions of sex that included descriptions of fisting and the use of a rimchair. The complaint against Mr. Rizzi did not graphically describe sex acts or the use of any sex toys.
Another difference between the two cases was that Mr. Rizzi was the sole official charged with criminality of his online sex business, whereas in the Rentboy.com case, several officials were charged.
As noted in prior reports published by Progress Queens, government reform activists are distressed to see involvement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in what are deemed regular policing matters. According to government reform activists, the U.S. Department of Homeleand Security may be trying to justify its bloated and dragnet approach to a war on terror that has largely not impacted American soil since the coördinated attacks of September 11 by, instead, conducting low-level criminal investigations, such as the conduct of sex work, which activists would like to see legalized.