The Paradise Valley neighbor of the suspected ringleader in the high-dollar prostitution ring broken up this week said Paul Nichta and his business partner Scott Eder were "vague" about what kind of businesses they managed when she and her husband welcomed them to the neighborhood with an orchid and a bottle of wine.
The neighbor, who did not want to be named, said that on Monday morning she saw several police vehicles and the SWAT team armed with guns preparing to enter Nichta's estate.
"I thought there might've been a murder or a drug arrest, but not prostitution," she said. "It's shocking. This is almost an open-door neighborhood. Everyone knows everybody and is pretty friendly with one another. It was evident Paul Nichta and Scott Eder weren't interested in being involved in the neighborhood. They were aloof and vague."
The neighbor said that Nichta and Eder had rented the house in the 6800 block of East Sunnyvale Road for about a month before the Phoenix Police Department's SWAT team swarmed the house and arrested them there. Nichta is being held in a county jail on $1 million cash bond, according to information from the jail.
"What's upsetting is the guns that were taken out of the house with the silencers," the neighbor said. "We've got little kids running around here."
The neighbor and a woman who works in the home said they noticed a video surveillance camera attached to a utility pole behind Nichta's backyard that overlooked a swimming pool. The worker said police told her they placed the camera there as part of the investigation. The worker requested that she also not be identified.
However, Phoenix police would not comment whether they had placed the camera there or if they were reviewing footage from it.
Nichta, 32, and Eder, 35, ran an Internet and escort service-based prostitution operation that resulted in a 55-person indictment on 17 felony counts in July and had conducted business in three states, including Pennsylvania and New Mexico, according to police. Acting on a tip from Scottsdale police, Phoenix police began investigating the ring about this time last year and began making arrests on Monday.
More than 100 prostitutes - some still living at home with their parents - were involved, and some worked for escort services such as Desert Divas LLC, Night Partners Entertainment, NPE Management Services, Hips Touring LLC, Escorts in Action, AZ Confidential and Desert Divas in New Mexico, according to police.
Police also said that thousands of clients are also involved and include prominent names on pay ledgers.
"This will destroy families," said Phoenix police Lt. Bill Schemers, who led the investigation.
In addition to the house on Sunnyvale Road, police seized Nichta's house in the 4000 block of East Woodstock Road in Phoenix and one owned by Pete Shifman in the 3000 block of East Camellia Drive in Gilbert. They also seized six high-end cars. Shifman, 56, was also arrested in connection with the ring.
Since Monday, police have arrested 29 on suspicion of money laundering and prostitution-related offenses in connection with the operation, including Valley radiologist Dr. Ross Levatter, 53, and Sean Carter, 39, who are described by authorities as key players.