Written by Betsy Abraham and Vinny Messana, Editorial@antonnews.com Friday, 14 June 2013 00:00
Across Nassau County, residents are reacting with a mix of surprise, empathy, and appreciation to the Nassau County District Attorney’s recent arrests of more than 100 men for soliciting prostitutes, including three Manhasset residents ranging in age from 22 to 79.
The DA’s office not only arrested the men, but made public their names and photographs. That, some feel, was an invasion of privacy, while others feel that the men should take responsibility for their actions, and their neighbors have a right to know what type of people surround them.
“I feel badly that he was victimized by a police sting. He’s a very nice, lovely guy,” said a former classmate of one of the men.
Others agreed, “He seemed like a really nice guy. I guess you don’t know what happens behind closed doors.”
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 10 years, police have arrested fewer than 40 johns, compared to 1,169 prostitution arrests in the last nine years (with 155 of those prostitution arrests in 2013). 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. “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, fathers, and grandfathers. Regardless of the sentence handed down by the courts, these alleged perpetrators potentially face wrath and disdain from spouses, children, colleagues, and friends.
“It is horrendous that the names of the suspects were released,” said Denise, a Manhasset resident. “This does nothing but ruin the lives of these men and their families.”
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.”
Other people have stated emphatically that they disagree, such as John Penn. “Absolutely,” he said in regards to whether it was right to release the names. “Each of the johns had to answer the internet ad, arrange a meeting at a hotel, request the act, pay for it, and once they were arrested…surprise, surprise, every one of them pleaded not guilty. It’s time that people are truly held accountable for their actions.”
Another resident of Manhasset agreed with the names being released, but for a different reason: “I think we should know because if we work in the area, you want to be aware of what type of people are in the surroundings.”
In response to the 79-year-old who was among the suspects, people were extremely surprised. One Manhasset resident simply began laughing uncontrollably when asked about the oldest man of the 104. When he composed himself, he said, “It’s disgusting.”
His wife has called the accusations “ridiculous.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the local 22-year-old was one of the youngest on the list.
“Wow, he was in my class a couple years ago,” said a high school classmate. “He was just looking to have a good time it seems.”
“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.”
County Executive Ed Mangano added, “With the use of intelligence lead policing, the Nassau County Police Department has reduced crime by 10 percent over the past three years of my administration.”