Down the rabbit hole 

Richard Carpita was looking for money. He already had the girls.

Page 3 of 4

Soon after that first job, a second girl, age 15, started spending time at Carpita and Brazington's trailer. She'd recently been released from a juvenile detention center in Spokane and was staying with her mom in a nearby house. According to Carpita, she had been working as a prostitute for at least two years when they met. He says when she arrived in East Missoula, she was pimped out by her mother at the Aspen Motel. He says she approached him about working for his Craigslist operation. In mid-March, the second girl did her first job for Carpita, again at the Aspen Motel.

From there, business boomed, and by April, Carpita was looking for new girls to help him expand. Several refused before he met a willing Helen Smart.

In the pines

On May 28, 2010, Carpita hung a six-pack of 16-ounce PBR cans over the waistband of his pants and slunk toward the door of the Lolo Town Pump. He didn't notice as a can stretched from its plastic ring. Then it fell to the floor, and he ran.

His companions, a 17-year-old girl who worked as a prostitute for Carpita on one occasion and a 19-year-old who was familiar with his business, were left behind. A Missoula sheriff's deputy arrived and questioned the teens while Carpita hid behind the gas station in a stand of pines.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

A few hours later, Carpita walked to a nearby carwash, where he thought the girls might be waiting, and was arrested. Sheriff's deputies "took me into the interrogation room," he says. "And they were like, 'We're not even going for the beer. We know about everything, so just tell us.'"

Carpita confessed to nothing. He was released in the morning.

Three months later, on September 9, Carpita received a federal student aid check for $5,000. School had just started, and since his arrest in Lolo, he'd stopped posting Craigslist ads for the girls, he says. So the check was a welcome respite from a dried-up cash flow. Though Carpita says he had an inkling that an investigation was underway, he had no idea it was about to end.

At 10:30 that night, Carpita was arrested by sheriff's deputies in a 6th Street basement apartment and charged with promotion of prostitution and aggravated promotion of prostitution (aggravated because three of the four known prostitutes were under the age of 18). He was taken into custody without incident.

Carpita pled guilty to the charges. On February 15, 2011, District Court Judge Karen Townsend sentenced him to 20 years in Montana State Prison with 10 of those suspended. Because of his willingness to cooperate and his lesser role in the ring, Anthony Brazington, who also pled guilty, received 10 years with six suspended. At sentencing, Carpita's lawyer told the court that her client was just trying "to fund a little endless summer."

Today, in a visiting room at the Montana State Prison, in Deer Lodge, Carpita recounts the events in Lolo that led to his arrest with a matter-of-fact tone intermittently stung with regret. When he describes the beer hitting the floor in the Lolo Town Pump, he makes a pink sound, like a guitar string snapping.

'They did a lot more.'

"We know prostitution exists in our town," says Missoula County prosecutor Jason Marks, "but it's rarely reported. In my research, I found one other case, from the '80s."

Among the Missoula locales where clients met with Carpita's and Brazington's prostitutes between March and June of 2010 are the Aspen Motel, the Redwood Lodge, the Shopko parking lot, the Good Food Store parking lot, Cross Roads Truck Plaza, Eastgate Albertson's parking lot, Sherwood Street, Blue Mountain, Fort Missoula, and a multi-colored Volkswagen van with "Phish" spray-painted on the side. In addition, Carpita and Brazington took girls to work in Lolo, Frenchtown, Kalispell, Whitefish and Helena. It's also been alleged that Brazington took at least two of the girls to work in Washington State, though federal charges have not been filed.

Although the ends are hardly new, the Craigslist prostitution case represents a means never before seen in Missoula. "The internet has taken these girls off the street and made everything anonymous," says Missoula sheriff's detective T.J. McDermott. "The best evidence we had were [Carpita and Brazington's] cell phones, which had hundreds of text message correspondences, of which only a few were incriminating enough to press charges."

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