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Prostitution Sting Stirs Mixed Reactions

Across Nassau County, residents are reacting with outrage or relief to the Nassau County District Attorney’s recent arrests of more than 100 men for soliciting prostitutes, including three from the Syosset area.

The DA’s office not only arrested the men, but made public their names and photographs. That, some feel, is an over-reach and invasion of privacy, however others think it finally shows local government taking the issue seriously.

 “I think they jumped the gun on this one,” one Syosset resident said, who was joined by two friends at a local store on break from work.  “There are over 100 men whose reputations are ruined now - even if they are found innocent.”

A Syosset business owner threw his support behind the sting, saying: “People like this should be exposed like this – it’s a shameful action and something different should be done, maybe this will work.”

Offering a professional view, Laurie Schwartzer, a Plainview-based therapist who treats individuals with ‘out-of-control’ sexual behavior in psychotherapy, says: “Often people do not come into treatment unless they have been “caught” by a significant other or by the legal system. This is because the behavior feels good even if guilt or shame are involved.”

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, compared to 1169 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 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, male and female officers posing as prostitutes met them. 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.

A mother of three younger children in Jericho expressed her outrage over the releasing of names and photos, saying: “We live in a society where you are ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ and I think we should uphold that – I would hate to see my children named a criminal before they were proven to be so.”

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.”

The DA’s office says prostitution is on the rise in the county.  “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.”