Underground prostitution network thrives on South Shore The Patriot Ledger In many ways, Maria is a typical 39-year-old. She rents an apartment in Quincy, regularly says ‘‘hello’’ to her neighbors and has a decent-paying job. There’s one big difference. Maria is a prostitute who sells herself to South Shore men for $175 an hour. ‘‘They’re mostly married,’’ she says of her clients. ‘‘They’re happily married. Well, I don’t know how happily married they are if they’re seeing me.’’ Maria, who asked that her name be changed to shield her identity, is part of a thriving underground prostitution network on the South Shore that goes largely unnoticed by most suburbanites. Rather than walk the streets, the prostitutes sell their services online or in newspapers, sometimes under the guise of escorts or masseuses. And they are sought out by johns living everywhere from Quincy to Plymouth. While the world’s oldest profession has always been practiced on the South Shore, modern technology is serving to facilitate the sale of sex in the suburbs, police say. ‘‘The Internet makes it more accessible,’’ said Braintree Deputy Police Chief Russell Jenkins, whose department busted five alleged prostitutes last fall when undercover cops soliciting them on the Internet. ‘‘I think it’s very common.’’ The Braintree sting notwithstanding, there are typically a handful or fewer arrests for prostitution on the South Shore in an given year. But those small numbers belie the extent of the underground sex market. On craigslist.com, the popular online classified site, there were 180 postings in the ‘‘erotic’’ section from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 by people who identified themselves as living on the South Shore or willing to visit. While not all of them involve the sale of sex (some are just offering free, kinky fun), the majority include hourly rates or request financial ‘‘donations.’’ Some include very graphic pictures of women in suggestive poses. Even those without images are enough to make nearly anyone blush. Take the 49-year-old man in the Braintree/Weymouth area who posted this message: ‘‘Any girls over 20 looking for fast $$$. I am ready now. Car date or otherwise. You know when you just have to have it. That’s me right now.’’ Then there’s Nancy, from the Weymouth area, who promises to help clients ‘‘take a trip to heaven.’’ For convenience, she offers rates for both an hour or half-hour session. One ‘‘voluptuous college coed’’ from the South Shore claims to need help with the rent this month. She was offering an hour of full-service fantasy fulfillment for ‘‘a donation of 300.’’ Many johns are looking for one-time satisfaction. Others, like the Hanover man, want something more long-term. He wrote: ‘‘MM (married man) seeks redhead 18 to 40 (no dye jobs girls) for a regular thing $$$$$$$ non pro would be nice, we can help each other out and have fun too.’’ Prostitutes both travel to their clients and make their johns come to them. Some rendezvous at local motels. Maria, the Quincy prostitute who turned her first trick at 20, does all of her business out of her apartment. She advertises on craigslist and in the Boston Phoenix, though neither ad explicitly says she will have sex for money. When guys call, she makes sure she is comfortable with them before giving out her address. Unlike some hookers, there are limits to what she’ll do. ‘‘You only get a massage and sex,’’ she said. ‘‘You won’t get to touch me. No, you can’t touch me. You cannot.’’ Maria said she isn’t too worried about the police. ‘‘They’re looking for hookers who do drugs’’ - and she doesn’t. In fact, the odds of a prostitute landing a work-related criminal record appear slim. Massachusetts Sentencing Commission records show that 369 people were convicted of prostitution from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004. Some others were not counted if they were convicted of a more serious offense at the same time. In recent years on the South Shore, only a few busts have made headlines. State Police arrested a Duxbury woman in October after she engaged in a sex act with an elderly man in a Plymouth parking lot for $20. In 2004, Quincy police broke up an alleged brothel masquerading as a massage parlor across from Quincy High School. In general, police said it’s hard to make arrests. Since johns are unlikely to snitch on hookers, the best bet is to send in undercover cops, a labor-intensive proposition. In Braintree, officers launched last fall’s sting to send the message that prostitutes aren’t welcome, Deputy Chief Jenkins said. Quincy Police Chief Robert Crowley said his department chases down whatever tips it gets. Police recently shut down a location where prostitution was taking place but didn’t press charges because they obtained ‘‘considerable intelligence information regarding other crimes,’’ Crowley said. ‘‘If we do get information on any location we will actively pursue it,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t want prostitution in the city, we don’t want massage parlors that aren’t licensed that may front for prostitution.’’ Police in some towns said they don’t perceive prostitution as a problem. Whitman Acting Police Chief Raymond Nelson said some hookers used to do business in town, but that problem disappeared a few years ago when condominiums replaced a motel on Route 18 that was frequented by prostitutes and johns. Plymouth police Capt. Michael Botieri said his town has seen ‘‘sporadic’’ prostitution problems but ‘‘nothing major.’’ He did not, however, know about craigslist. As for Maria, she said most people couldn’t begin to imagine what can be bought and sold on the South Shore.