Tricks of the Trade

Loose laws have turned Denver into an easy place for hookers to do business, but the fun's about to end.

The following is just one, written last October by Laura Straka, a registered nurse who works at St. Anthony Central Hospital:

"Dear Mayor Webb:
This letter is in regard to the recent massive infestation of organized prostitution on Colfax Avenue.

I have lived in South City Park with my husband and two daughters (ages 8 and 6) for the past 13 years, and the situation has gotten noticeably worse: Summer of 2001, 15 prostitutes arrived from Missouri. Every night my street, the 1500 block of Jackson, turns into a parade grounds for men driving their cars around & around my block, waiting to take their pathetic turn with a hooker. At times the line of cars is six deep, with others parked further down, engines off, "waiting for a friend.' This is disgusting and I am tired of putting up with it.

John Johnston
Clean it up: Pamela Corvelli takes a broom to prostitution on Colfax.
John Johnston
Clean it up: Pamela Corvelli takes a broom to prostitution on Colfax.

The prostitutes use the driveway at John Elway Ford on Jackson Street as their personal revolving door. There, they are dropped off by their loser customers and are picked up by the next. I don't know where the term 'streetwalker' comes from -- here in our little part of Denver, all you have to do to earn $1,500 per night is stand in that John Elway driveway.

My husband and I chase these vermin off as much as possible -- venturing outside yelling, "Get off our street." This usually works for about three minutes. Our latest plague of 19 hookers has just arrived from L.A. The sheer number of these losers is staggering!

I work from 6:45 a.m. to 7:25 p.m. as an R.N. Guess what lovely sights greet me each morning as I walk to my car and each night as I return home: vile horny men trolling for whores. It is just so gross.

It needs to be stopped."

Pamela Corvelli couldn't agree more.

"Last summer, it was like something just opened up and dumped on our neighborhood," says Corvelli, who represents South City Park on the Denver Police Department's District 2 Citizens' Advisory Board as well as on the Colfax Corridor Crime Coalition. "We had to put out notices reminding people to keep their porch lights on, because otherwise their porches would get used as motels. Every morning, there were used condoms in our front yards and along our sidewalks, where they'd been tossed out of cars. It was nauseating."

Corvelli is affectionately known among some Colfax hookers as "that crazy broom bitch" because of her peculiar vigilante tendencies. "I call it 'going on broom patrol,'" she says. "Me and this other lady, we get out our brooms, and we'll go walking around the neighborhood at night, and if we see hookers and their johns, we'll chase them away with our brooms. We throw dirt clods at them, too, especially if we catch them in the act."

Recognizing that earth bombs and broomsticks are at best a short-term solution, Corvelli helped organize a letter-writing and calling campaign at the tail end of last year's hooker high season. This motivated Denver City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, who represents South City Park, to call an emergency neighborhood meeting last November. In attendance were high-ranking officers from the DPD's vice bureau, representatives of the Denver City Attorney's Office, and Raymond Satter, Denver County Court's presiding judge, along with Wedgeworth and many angry area residents.

"It was basically an open, informal forum to have the neighbors be able to finally talk to these officials directly," says Wedgeworth. "Some of it was venting, but there was a serious discussion in terms of specific ways to alleviate this growing problem."

The people of South City Park pleaded with Judge Satter to direct the Denver County judges under his purview to begin heaping more jail time upon prostitution offenders. They wanted to see more thirty- and sixty-day sentences, and they wanted to see them right away.

"I think it was a very eye-opening experience for Judge Satter, because they told him in no uncertain terms, 'Your judges need to be giving stronger sentences,'" says Wedgeworth. "Because at least with the johns, when they're caught, their cars are impounded, so there's a real punishment there. Where with the prostitutes, especially when they're from out of state, they don't really care when they get caught, because nothing really bad happens to them -- because, frankly, there's nowhere to put all these prostitutes for a month each and every time they're arrested."

Denver's antiquated city jail is so consistently packed beyond capacity that convicted prostitutes are often released early to make room for more dangerous criminals. Denver voters last November shot down a city proposal to build a new, $325 million jail. And although the number of prostitutes on Colfax has risen, the number of arrests has stayed the same or gone down, according to police statistics, in large part because the police don't want to invest the time and effort into booking women who won't do any serious time. In 2000, there were 404 prostitues arrested in Denver, along with 291 johns; in 2001, there were only 373 prostitution arrests and 309 arrests of johns.

"It's a frustrating situation for everyone, because Judge Satter's response to the neighbors was basically, 'I know what you're saying, and I'd love to lock them up, but where?'" Wedgeworth adds.

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