Written by Betsy Abraham Thursday, 13 June 2013 00:00
Across Nassau County, residents are reacting with a mix of confusion and appreciation to the Nassau County District Attorney’s recent arrests of more than 100 men for soliciting prostitutes, including two from New Hyde Park, ages 38 and 53.
The DA’s office not only arrested the men, but made public their names and photographs. That, some feel, is an over-reach or just par for the course of doing something wrong.
Kenneth Li of New Hyde Park thinks publicizing the names was a “suitable punishment.”
"It just lets the public know who has done it,” he said. “I guess it changes my view on the people…you think you can trust [them], but you know, are not really trustworthy.”
The arrests came after a month-long undercover sting conducted by the DA’s office and the police department. “Operation Flush the Johns” was the first of its kind in Nassau County. In the last ten years, police have arrested fewer than 40 johns. While prostitutes are regularly the prime targets of investigations, those soliciting them are overlooked.
“The johns who fuel the exploitation are treated as mere witnesses,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said. “My office and the police department are turning the tables on the illogical and immoral nature of that equation.”
The men were caught after they responded to escort service ads posted by undercover police on Backpage.com. When the men came to the hotel or motel rooms they were met by male and female officers posing as prostitutes. Hidden cameras that had been installed in the rooms captured visual and audio footage and once money was offered for sex, the arrests were made.
The men came from all over Long Island and ranged in profession, ethnicity and age. The youngest arrested was 17, and the oldest was 79, with the average age being around 40. All of the defendants have been arraigned and pleaded not guilty to Patronizing a Prostitute in the Third Degree. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum of one year in jail.
Some people have criticized the DA’s office for releasing the names and pictures of the accused, some of whom are respected professionals and fathers. Regardless of the sentence handed down by the courts, these alleged perpetrators potentially face wrath and disdain from spouses, children, colleagues and friends.
East Williston Attorney Jeff Kalenka thinks prostitution is a problem, but thought publishing the names “embarrasses” the men caught in the act.
“It doesn’t surprise me although I do disagree with what Kathleen Rice did because I think the ‘Johns’ or reported ‘Johns’ are innocent until proven guilty and to put their names in the paper embarrasses them, embarrasses their families and possibly unintended victims like their children,” Kalenka said outside the Mineola train station.
Kalenka called Rice’s moves “scare tactics.”
“I don’t think there is a problem with arresting people for prostitution, I just think she is going about it the wrong way,” he said.
However, Rice said that people have a right to know whom their prosecutors and police are arresting.
“Nobody raises an issue when we put out public information on people accused of financial scams, of corruption, of all sorts of comparable crimes. Why should we give them unprecedented anonymity?,” Rice said. “There are not two sets of rules for the cases I make.”
One New Hyde Park resident at the Mineola train station last week said she was “shocked” and that public shame is a “good punishment” but that there are more severe crimes that need this type of investigation. “I definitely think there is more crime that takes precedence [over] prostitution so I’m not surprised that it’s been kind of low numbers [of prostitution arrests],” she said.
“It’s unfortunate that this seems to be far more prevalent than anybody would have ever realized,” said Nassau County Legislator Wayne Wink.
Rice said negative publicity would deter future johns.
“We know the commission of this specific crime is dramatically affected by the perceived risk of getting caught,” Rice said. “Why should we give them secrecy when we know that this crime specifically is often best prevented by these types of publicity events that make people think of the potential consequences of their actions? Giving secrecy won’t deter future johns; it would embolden them. We want them to think twice and these efforts encourage that.”
And while the public may now have access to the names and faces of the alleged criminals, Brian Griffin, Chair of the Nassau County Bar Association Criminal Court Law & Procedure Committee, said it’s important to remember that all of the 104 men are innocent until proven guilty.
“It’s merely allegations at this point and the criminal justice system should be allowed to take over and the cases should be tried in the court of law and not in the public opinion,” Griffin said. “While it may be interesting to talk about, it’s very serious.”
While this is the first such sting, it may not be the last. The DA’s office says they will continue to actively address prostitution in Nassau County.
“The DA plans to continue to prosecute johns who fuel the demand,” said John Byrne, director of communications and policy for the DA’s office. “This sting certainly puts potential johns on notice that there’s a good chance they’ll be caught if they attempt to patronize a prostitute.”