Oct 29, 2015 · 7 minutes

Update: Surprising no one, founder of InternD escort site admits the whole thing was a scam

I’ve written before about my disappointment at Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project in Las Vegas.

In particular I’ve criticised Hsieh [a Pando investor] for his TED Talk-friendly soundbites about “spontaneous collisions,” reinventing education, and “delivering happiness,” which bear precious little relation to the real experience of living and working in Downtown Vegas.

Well, it seems I spoke too soon.

Yesterday, a tipster sent me a link to one of the latest companies to make the Downtown Project its home. One look at its website shows that it checks every box for the kind of company Hsieh says he wants to attract to his project:

Encouraging spontaneous collisions? Check!

Reinventing education? Check!

Delivering happiness! Oh yes! Oh yes! Check!

The company is called InternD and it describes itself as follows…

InternD eliminates the dangers of being a professional in the escort and exotic dancing industries. Having seen how so many new companies are becoming “middlemen” and lowering the costs while increasing convenience and safety was one of the greatest motivators to start InternD.

With InternD, those interested in becoming a professional exotic dancer or escort can use our guidance to assure their safety and success. Our rigorous hiring and training process guarantees that only those that meet our high standards progress through the program to obtain certification.

That’s right -- InternD is an innovative new platform for sex workers. It wants to help would-be escorts and strippers take their first step into the industry while at the same time pimping out... sorry, facilitating connections between clients and "the most attractive 'females' you'll ever see."

InternD interns and graduates are work-ready, come with a satisfaction guarantee, and are some of the most attractive females you’ll ever see. Why take chances when you don’t have to? We’re like a top staffing agency for Fortune 500 companies, except we’re in an industry that’s typically been in the shadows.

The company gives its mailing address as 317 S 6th St, also known as the Downtown Project’s Work In Progress collaborative workspace. Anyone can sign up for Work In Progress desk space, which starts at $49 a month and includes "drop in" privileges and access to the buidling's "incredibly community of doers." As I reported previously, Work In Progress is also the Vegas home of Uber and Postmates. 

And, indeed, like Uber, InternD wants to disrupt attempts by short-sighted lawmakers to restrict its business operations. So what if prostitution is illegal in the city of Las Vegas? And so what if Nevada’s sex trafficking laws appear to consider InternD’s activities a felony…

NRS 201.300  Pandering and sex trafficking: Definitions; penalties; exception.

  1.  A person who without physical force or the immediate threat of physical force, induces an adult to unlawfully become a prostitute or to continue to engage in prostitution, or to enter any place within this State in which prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed for the purpose of sexual conduct or prostitution is guilty of pandering which is a category C felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.

2.  A person:

  (a) Is guilty of sex trafficking if the person:

          . . .

          (2) Induces, recruits, harbors, transports, provides, obtains or maintains a person by any means, knowing, or in reckless disregard of the fact, that threats, violence, force, intimidation, fraud, duress or coercion will be used to cause the person to engage in prostitution, or to enter any place within this State in which prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed for the purpose of sexual conduct or prostitution;

        (3) By threats, violence, force, intimidation, fraud, duress, coercion, by any device or scheme, or by abuse of ANY position of confidence or authority, or having legal charge, takes, places, harbors, induces, causes, compels or procures a person to engage in prostitution, or to enter any place within this State in which prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed for the purpose of sexual conduct or prostitution.

Ain’t that what the sharing economy is all about? (Although, quick branding note: If your startup breaks state sex trafficking laws, maybe don't give it a name that also means 'imprisoned'?)

Remarkably, though, this innovative, disruptive startup seems to have set up shop in the heart of Hsieh’s city experiment completely unbeknownst to, and without help from, the Downtown Project team. In fact, no one I’ve spoken to in the Downtown Project had any idea that InternD was claiming to be working out of Work In Progress, not did they have a clue how the company ended up working in their midst. No company by the name of InternD is on Work In Progress’ member database, a spokesperson told me, and no one appears to have noticed any of the company’s own “community of doers” wandering around.

More that that, a source at Work In Progress confirmed “if [InternD’s] website is accurate it is operating a prohibited business activity under WIP's membership agreement.”

So what gives?

I emailed the contact listed on InternD.com to try to clear up the confusion. I also asked about the legality of the service, and for background info on the founders. After all, given the site invites would be “interns” to  “upload a headshot and full body photo” in anticipation of being given work as escorts or exotic dancers, shouldn’t the site at least explain who is receiving those photos? Or give some other clue about the service’s legitimacy? Unfortunately the email was returned undelivered a few hours later.  

For now, then, the identify of the person claiming to run an illegal brothel out of the same Las Vegas offices as Uber and Postmates remains a mystery. I’ll keep digging, and the headlines will keep writing themselves.   

...

Update: Shortly after we published this article, InternD tweeted...

...  

Update II: The company confirms that they are based out of Work In Progress, but say they are operating "under a shell"...

When asked they declined to confirm the name of the "shell" company. They also claimed they are bringing escorts and dancers to Work In Progress... 

Update III:

After an email back and forth in which the InternD founder -- identifying himself as "Phil" -- continually insisted his service was real, he finally caved, responding...

Hey Paul,

Here to write you that this is not a real site. It is a marketing experiment between a few people. Please advise.

 

Oh, Vegas. I've asked him to explain the nature of the experiment, and also to confirm if it is indeed based in the Work In Progress building. I'll update this story again if he reponds. 

Here's the whole email thread...


From: Intern D
Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2015 1:56 PM
To: Paul Carr
Subject: Re: Trying again

Hey Paul,

Here to write you that this is not a real site. It is a marketing experiment between a few people. Please advise.

...

On Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 1:40 PM, Paul Carr wrote:


There's nothing judgmental about concerns over a guy who won't even give his name‎ or company details but is asking women to send photos on the promise of sex work. That's the way predators behave.

There is literally no lawful reason you would need to hide your business identity ‎. What guarantee does anyone have that they will be safe working with you?

Also, how do you explain the fact that wip says they have no record of anyone even accessing your site from there before today?

Happy to update the story if you can share your name or give some other proof that you are a legitimate business.


Paul

From: Intern D
Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2015 1:36 PM
To: Paul Carr
Subject: Re: Trying again

For the safety of everyone we prefer not to say. Sorry you can't write a judgmental false story.


Phil

COO & Founder

On Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 1:11 PM, Paul Carr wrote:

Hi,

Looking for comment for a follow up story on Pando.

Main question: Your social account confirms you work out of Work In Progress in Vegas but they insist you do not. You say you work under a “shell” company. What is the name of that company?

Thanks!

Paul