Third arrest made in Pittsfield prostitution ring; more charges pending

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PITTSFIELD — A third man has been arrested in connection with a widening prostitution and human trafficking investigation, and another suspect is also facing charges and will likely be summonsed in the near future.

James E. Benlien, 51, of Pittsfield, allegedly helped make arrangements between prostitutes and at least one customer, and used his motel room for encounters.

Officers on patrol Sunday spotted a truck driven by a white male with two female passengers inside, one of whom police recognized as a prostitute, according to court documents.

Police followed the truck and spoke to the operator after the women were dropped off. The driver said Benlien had set him up with the two women, and that he had taken the women to Benlien's motel room. He was given a warning and said he would go home.

But when police went to Benlien's motel room, he found the same truck in the parking lot, and the driver, the two women, and Benlien were in the room.

Benlien said he had set the driver up with one of the women. He told police he had been hiring prostitutes for about two years, and named several women known to police to be involved in the local sex trade and listed several locations where those encounters would take place.

He was arrested for arranging the meeting and providing the space for it. Charges against the driver of the truck are pending. The women were not charged.

Benlien said he often dealt with a white male named Randy when hiring prostitutes. He said when Randy dropped off the women, he expected cash, which he called "gas money," and normally made arrangements via text message.

He pleaded not guilty in Central Berkshire District Court on Monday to charges of maintaining a house of prostitution, keeping a house of prostitution and conspiracy.

Judge William O'Grady released Benlien on personal recognizance and set a pretrial hearing for Jan. 5.

Police believe the "Randy" Benlien referred to may be Randy Lambach, 45, of Becket, who already is facing charges along with co-defendant Joseph E. Van Wert, 65, of Pittsfield.

Both men were arrested last month amid allegations they were involved in recruiting and exploiting women and selling them for sex.

Lambach is accused of seeking out women with a drug addiction, placing photos of them in online classified ads for sexual services, making arrangements with the customers and transporting the women to and from their appointments. He allegedly would keep most of the money the women earned, and threatened to turn them in to police if they stopped working for him, according to witness testimony.

The investigation revealed that Van Wert's apartment, which is in a senior housing complex, was used for people to have sex with the women, and he was paid in cash and drugs for the use of his home. Van Wert also allegedly paid for sex with the women.

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.

They are both being held without bail pending dangerousness hearings scheduled for Dec. 27.

Reach Bob Dunn at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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