A Massapequa couple who took in at least $1 million in the past two years by running an international call-girl ring via the Internet from a quiet suburban street was arrested Thursday by federal agents and New York police, officials said.
Vincent Lombardo, 44, and his wife, Melissa Lombardo, 43, of 3 Franklin Place, who are accused of operating the ring under the name Aphrodite Companions, were charged at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn both with money laundering and engaging in financial transactions that promoted prostitution.
They are accused of running the business, then using the money for expenses as well as depositing the money generated from prostitution into bank accounts. Their attorney said Thursday his clients are not guilty.
Their business was named after the Greek goddess of love, and the prostitutes who worked for them were very choosy about their clientele, according to a complaint filed in court. One woman working as a prostitute in Dubai, for example, insisted that she would only have clients who were at five-star hotels, the complaint said.
The Lombardos, who authorities charge also ran the ring from a home in upscale Boca Raton, Fla., in turn were very selective about whom they employed, the complaint added.
At one point, an Aphrodite employee was instructed in an email how to screen a potential prostitute, the complaint says. "She must send a full photo of her face and body connected that we can see, otherwise she can keep it moving. We don't need trash girls or drug girls or girls that aren't GFE. It is our way or they don't work for us." GFE stands for providing a girlfriend experience.
The Lombardos promised the prostitutes they selected well-to-do or influential customers, the complaint said.
Possible clients at "a big event" in Miami are described in another email, according to the complaint, as "a group of politicians, lawyers, and many other important businessmen [who] are looking for companions."
The type of event or the names of the possible clients are not disclosed in the complaint.
In all, the Lombardos' ring provided prostitutes across the United States, as well as in Europe, South Africa, Israel and other parts of the Middle East, the complaint said.
The Lombardos were held without bail as a flight risk at the Brooklyn hearing by Magistrate Cheryl Pollak.
Pollak acted after Eastern District federal prosecutors said they believed the Lombardos may have hidden millions of dollars in profits in addition to the slightly more than $1 million in bank accounts that the investigation uncovered.
The defense attorney for both Lombardos, Robert J. Del Col of Smithtown, said the prosecutors were wrong about any supposed "missing cash" and that his clients were not guilty of the charges.
"We are digging in our heels on this," Del Col said, emphasizing his clients' innocence.
"They are running an escort service," Del Col said of the Lombardos, adding that arranging relationships over the Internet is becoming more common these days.
Del Col said it is not his clients' fault if two people who meet over the Internet engage in sexual conduct.
The couple each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Alex Fiakos, who owns the house from which the Lombardos are accused of running the ring, lives next door. "I know nothing about that," he said of the charges against the couple.
Jim Psomas, who lives across the street from the Lombardos, said, "There were always different people [there] . . . A lot of guys in their early 30s. I saw a lot of girls . . . they were head-turners, but they weren't dressed sexy, they were dressed appropriately. No miniskirts . . . No loud music, no loud noise, just too many different cars."
With Fausto Giovanny Pinto