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WAYNESVILLE, NC: Restroom sex sting nets 7 including an Episcopal Priest

WAYNESVILLE, NC: Restroom sex sting nets 7 including an Episcopal Priest
Operation charges six others in Web scheme

by Jon Ostendorff
Citizens-Times
http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200770905108
September 6, 2007

WAYNESVILLE - A three-month undercover sting led to the arrests of an Episcopal priest and six other men on charges of exposure and sex solicitation in two city park restrooms, police said Wednesday.

In a second phase of what police called Operation Summer Heat, investigators also arrested five other men and one woman on charges of prostitution, participating in prostitution of a minor and soliciting prostitution.

Those arrests came after the suspects responded to an advertisement on the popular craigslist Web site.

Investigators started the operation after getting complaints from parents about the park restrooms near a playground and picnic area and a tip about offers for sex in Waynesville on the Web site.

The undercover investigation marks at least the second time in the last decade that officers have targeted restrooms near the Waynesville Recreation Park on Vance Street.

"We want to provide an atmosphere that is safe and desirable for families to be able to go and enjoy an outing without having to worry about sexual activity where their children are playing, having a picnic or eating lunch," Police Chief Bill Hollingsed said.

The arrests started in June. Police said they kept them quiet to get as much as they could out of the undercover sting. They announced the charges Wednesday after ending the operation.

Michael Royce Penland, an Episcopal priest and director of youth ministry at St. Gregory's Church in Boca Raton, Fla., was among those charged.

Penland, 46, listed a Fennel Dun Circle address in Candler's Biltmore Lake subdivision at the time of his arrest. He worked for Holy Cross in Tryon before moving to Florida, according to an Episcopal Diocese newsletter.

Penland would not comment on the charges.

An official at his church in Florida would not comment. A spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina in Raleigh did not immediately return a message.

Announcement of the arrests comes on the heels of national news coverage of similar charges against Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, accused of looking for gay sex in a Minnesota airport restroom. Bathroom busts

To catch the men, undercover officers waited in and around park restrooms on Vance Street and East Marshall Street. The suspects approached the officers and offered sex or exposed themselves, police said.

The officers then signaled to a nearby surveillance team, and the suspects were arrested, police said.

Dane Henry Burr, 81, owner of Burr Studio on Main Street in Waynesville, was one of those arrested. Burr said Wednesday that he has a bladder problem and was only trying to relieve himself, not expose himself to the undercover officer.

Penland, the Episcopal priest, told officers the day he was arrested that he was in the area to give his aunt last rites, according to police.

All of the charges, expect for a sexual battery against Maxwell "Max" Davis, 75, are misdemeanors.

Most suspects were issued citations on the spot, photographed and allowed to leave.

Police said Davis groped an undercover officer while in the bathroom, which led to the felony charge.

Detective Tyler Trantham, who worked the undercover operation along with Detective Crystal Shuler, Detective Ryan Singleton and Sgt. Kenny Aldridge, said it has stopped the activity at the park.

Police aren't sure why the park restrooms have a reputation as a place to go for sex. They are not aware of any Web sites that feature them.

Joe Teague, who was playing a round of disc golf at the park on Wednesday, said he's glad the police cracked down.

"For the sake of the children, especially" he said. "They don't need to be exposed to anything their maturity levels can't handle." Web site sting

Police posted an advertisement for a massage on the craigslist Web site to attract the suspects for this second part of the operation. Shuler said the ad clearly said the massage was "legitimate."

But the requests officers got back were for more than a massage.

The detective said as many as 70 responses were seeking sex with children.

Drew Houston Cave, a 49-year-old Tennessee resident, agreed to pay $200 to have sex with 12-year-old and 14-year-old girls, police said. When he arrived at a house set up for the operation and paid his money, he was arrested and jailed, police said.

END

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