By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK - The last of seven defendants arrested in connection with a prostitution sting conducted by local law enforcement pleaded guilty Monday in Shenenandoah County General District Court.
Judge W. Dale Houff sentenced the defendant, Matthew David Barlass of Strasburg, to the same jail term imposed on the other defendants: a six-month suspended sentence. Barlass also forfeited $100 that was part of the transaction that led to his arrest after he met with a woman who was working as an undercover police informant.
Barlass' attorney, David Downes, revealed in court that he had learned that the woman received $200 for her participation in the sting, which was conducted at the Super 8 motel in Mount Jackson when the defendants appeared there on March 27.
"She was paid $200 for a couple hours of work, courtesy of whoever ran the sting," Downes said in an interview after the hearing.
Most of the arrests were made by Mount Jackson police, who led the operation with help from the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office and police departments in New Market, Woodstock and Winchester. The defendants included James W. "Jim" Deskins, 59, the former director of Winchester's Economic Development Authority.
Barlass entered an Alford plea in the case, which means he agreed that the prosecution had assembled enough evidence to convict him, although he continues to maintain his innocence.
The confidential informant, who was scheduled to appear in court Monday, failed to do so for reasons Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley did not specify. Authorities say the woman advertised sexually oriented services on the Internet and met the defendants at the motel after they contacted her.
Wiseley told Houff she needed the woman's testimony. Houff rejected Downes' request that the hearing go ahead without the woman.
"It's nice to get it done earlier, but we need a full hearing," Houff said.
After conferring outside the courtroom for a few minutes, Downes and Wiseley returned and submitted the plea agreement to Houff.
Downes said later that Barlass, who appeared in court, has moved out of state since his arrest and agreed to plead guilty to get the case behind him.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org