Bail denied for 1 suspect, set at $7,500 for another in Pittsfield prostitution ring
Randy W. Lambach, 45, and Joseph E. Van Wert, 65, of Pittsfield, were in Central Berkshire District Court on Friday for dangerousness hearings in the case.
Lambach has been accused of recruiting women into prostitution, posting online ads for their services, taking them to appointments — and keeping most of the money.
Van Wert allegedly provided use of his apartment in a Pittsfield senior living complex for the women and their customers. He allegedly paid for sex with the women, and was paid by Lambach in cash and drugs for use of his apartment.
Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Dana Parsons sought to have both men held without bail as dangerous.
She said Lambach was the initial target of the investigation, which began in the spring after city police began receiving an increase in calls regarding prostitution in the areas of First, Adam, North, Linden and Wahconah streets, police said. Many of the women told investigators they had been recruited by a white male named "Randy."
Parsons said the investigation eventually implicated Van Wert as well. She said police spoke to both men and advised them to cease their activity. But in response, Parsons said, Lambach changed his phone number and continued his operation.
She said Lambach presented a danger, noting that he was convicted of sexual assault in the past, failed to register as a sex offender and allegedly threatened women involved in the prostitution ring.
Lambach's attorney, Edmund St. John IV, argued that there was a "dearth of evidence" in the state's case against his client and relied on salacious but unconfirmed statements from unknown witnesses, who were not identified by name in initial police reports.
"This is not what the commonwealth is making this out to be," St. John said, arguing that the state had failed to provide any substantive evidence.
Van Wert's attorney, Colin Keefe, said the state failed its burden to demonstrate that his client was a danger "by a long shot."
Keefe called "creative" Parsons' argument that Van Wert was a danger simply because he was allegedly facilitating and participating in the prostitution of vulnerable addicts, but he noted that his client has no criminal record to speak of, and there is no evidence he forced himself upon any of the women.
Parsons noted that, on Nov. 15, while at Berkshire Medical Center and in the custody of the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, Van Wert attempted to flee.
Once Judge Matthew Shea decided Van Wert was not going to be held without bail, Keefe argued for a bail of $500 to $1,000, which is all he would be able to come up with. Parsons requested $25,000.
Lambach has pleaded not guilty to four counts of human trafficking. Van Wert has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit human trafficking, deriving support from prostitution, maintaining a house of prostitution and sexual conduct for a fee.
Both men are due back in court Feb. 9 for pretrial hearings.
Reach Bob Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
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