Cherry Hill man charged with running prostitution operation

Posted: March 15, 2013

Cherry Hill police announced the arrest Wednesday of a township man charged with arranging encounters with prostitutes inside his Oak Avenue home.

Michael Clarke, 47, was arrested Feb. 1 and charged with promoting prostitution, police said.

Clarke had been advertising prostitution services on backpage.com, a classified-ad website, said Sgt. Joseph Vitarelli, a supervisor in the investigative unit.

Clarke arranged encounters at his home as well as area motels, Vitarelli said.

Police began investigating because neighbors complained of cars coming and going - "different people all the time," Vitarelli said. He said the activity had been going on for some time.

On Oak Avenue, a street off Church Road with well-kept homes, several neighbors said the report confirmed their suspicions.

One neighbor, who asked to be kept anonymous, said he often saw "young, attractive women being dropped off from high-end cars" at Clarke's home, where plastic sheeting covered some windows.

Clarke has surveillance cameras in his trees, though neighbors sometimes disconnect the wires, the neighbor said. He said Clarke threw loud parties and several neighbors were fearful: "We obviously don't want any problems."

Clarke was briefly detained at the Camden County Jail. The case has yet to be presented to a grand jury, authorities said.

Clarke said yesterday that he was not guilty of the prostitution charge. While "I haven't been the cleanest citizen," he said, police "are making it out to be a little more than it is, I suspect."

Clarke said he lives alone and for years has run a computer business out of the house, which he said his family had owned since the late 1960s.

That business dwindled several years ago, however, and he turned to cab driving. "Being a cabdriver, you run into a certain element," he said.

He said he often has friends over to drink and use the pool in his backyard, and at times "a girl or two comes by."

"It's not like some big operation or something," Clarke said. "It's not like I have BMWs in the driveway."

He said the surveillance cameras were for his computer business.

Clarke said he was diagnosed with chronic heart failure last June and received a pacemaker in August.

"In between that time, maybe I engaged in some activities I shouldn't," he said. "When you think you're dying, risky activity doesn't seem so scary."

Clarke would not answer whether he had advertised on backpage.com but said new ads "go up every five minutes" on the site's South Jersey section.

"I can't believe I'm the focus," he said.

Vitarelli said one woman "was instrumental in making the case" but did not elaborate. He did not say how many women or men might have been involved.

While Clarke was charged last month, police waited to announce the arrest because they were still investigating, Vitarelli said.

Police seized computers, cameras, and cell phones from Clarke's house after his arrest, but have not found any evidence to suggest he was working with anyone else, Vitarelli said. No one else has been charged, he said.


Contact Maddie Hanna at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com .

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