KENNEWICK — A Richland man accused of paying to have sex with two underage girls now is facing felony charges.
Chad Andrew Crithfield, 41, also had his trial in Benton County Superior Court delayed a month after hiring another attorney to represent him. His trial was supposed to start Monday.
He now faces a Nov. 28 trial in Benton County Superior Court on two felony counts of commercial sex abuse of a minor, and one count of prostitution, a gross misdemeanor, after refusing a plea deal.
Crithfield was charged in May with three counts of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, gross misdemeanors.
He was one of five people charged in connection with a case investigated by Kennewick police.
Crithfield, who worked as a Tri-City home loan manager, allegedly responded to an escort service ad on backpage.com and made arrangements to meet two young women at a Kennewick hotel.
Prosecutors claim he paid a fee to have sex with Melissa Marie Salsbury, who was 19 at the time and placed the internet ad, and a 17-year-old girl whom she recruited, court documents said.
Crithfield allegedly answered the ad a second time and again had sex with Salsbury and another 17-year-old girl, documents said.
Salsbury and the two underage girls picked Crithfield out in a photomontage, and Salsbury told officers that Crithfield paid $200 to have sex with her and the two girls, documents said.
Salsbury, who is charged in connection with the case, is accused of recruiting high school girls -- ages 17 and 18 -- to earn money by dancing for men.
She then allegedly threatened the girls and forced them to have sex with the men who answered the ads, documents said.
Crithfield retained Shelley Ajax earlier this month to replace defense attorney Bob Thompson, who had been representing him.
He hired Thompson after his first attorney, Scott Johnson, withdrew from the case for ethical reasons.
On Wednesday, Ajax asked Judge Craig Matheson to schedule the trial in January to give her time to prepare, but Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long objected to the delay.
Long said the victims in the case are being affected by the repeated trial delays -- there were four continuances before Wednesday.
She also said Crithfield's "inability to effectively work with two other attorneys resulting in a delay in the trial date" should not outweigh the victims' rights to have the case resolved in a timely manner, documents said.
Long said she worked with Johnson on the case before charges were filed and Crithfield was expected to plead guilty at his arraignment. After Johnson withdrew, Thompson was hired and Crithfield pleaded innocent to the charges.
"I tried to work with Mr. Thompson. I said if he did not accept (the plea offer) on Sept. 20, I will file felony charges," Long said. "I thought we had an agreement."
She said she was going to recommend a 60-day jail sentence if he pleaded to three counts of prostitution. Crithfield didn't accept the offer, so the felony charges were filed.
Ajax told Judge Matheson that Crithfield contacted her the night before that hearing and sent an email to Long asking that nothing happen until she was able to make it to court.
Long said she didn't see the email, which was sent at nearly 2 a.m., until after the hearing.
Neither Crithfield or Thompson made any reference on the record about Ajax taking over, she said.
She said if Ajax can't meet the current trial schedule, then she should take the case.
Ajax, however, said she already had put a notice in to substitute for Thompson and no objection was made.
"My client should be allowed to have effective counsel," she said.
Crithfield learned information about Johnson after hiring him that "disturbed him," and then retained Thompson, but then learned things about Thompson that led him to contact her, Ajax said.
Long's "reasoning that he just can't get along with attorneys, that is not the truth," Ajax said. "Mr. Crithfield has no criminal history at all and he wants the charges handled appropriately."
She said there are 11 hours of interviews with witnesses that need to be transcribed and reviewed and possibly some interviews that will need to be done again.
She also said she still needs some information that Thompson requested from prosecutors but hadn't received.
Ajax also questioned Long's argument that state law says continuances are not allowed in sex-related cases where the victims are under 18 without compelling reasons.
Ajax said the law doesn't apply because the victims aren't minors -- they are all 18 or older. She also said she doesn't think the girls Crithfield allegedly had sex with are victims.
"I don't think they're victims. They're prostitutes," she said.
Judge Matheson agreed to give Ajax more time to prepare, but said he wasn't going to postpone it to January.
"When you take on a case, you need to confer with the other side ... it may not always be reasonable to delay," Matheson said. "When you're the third attorney, you have to check, or you may not be able to take the case. ... You're going to have to be moving some things around if you're going to stay on the case."
Matheson also said Ajax will need to check with Thompson and get the highlights on the interviews to help her get ready for trial while waiting for the transcripts to be done.
"You're substituting for Mr. Thompson, but that doesn't mean you get to do everything all over again," the judge said. "I'm not going to require people to be interviewed every time he decides to get a different attorney."