First 'Flush the Johns' conviction after trial
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A Queens Village man was convicted by a judge Thursday of patronizing a prostitute during a sting operation in Nassau County last year that netted 104 men on similar charges -- the first such conviction at trial.
Judge Sharon Gianelli, sitting in First District Court in Hempstead, said the video of a hotel-room meeting between an undercover detective and Vadim Cruchinin, 40, showed that he solicited sex for money.
"In the end, it was the defendant's own words on video that rendered the otherwise poor showing as to the people's case moot, and what proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt," the judge said.
Gianelli noted that Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice was refusing to offer plea bargains and insisting all 104 defendants in the Flush the Johns sting plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute in the third degree -- regardless of the defendant or the evidence.
Prosecutor Victoria Mauri argued in her closing statement that the totality of Cruchinin's conduct -- going on a sex-oriented website, answering a provocative ad and agreeing to a specific sex act in return for $70 -- made it clear he was guilty of patronizing a prostitute.
Defense attorney Stuart Kanoff of Hempstead said Cruchinin never specifically asked for sex in the hotel room, and the detectives who ran the undercover operation failed to make proper entries in their logs linking him to the supposed telephone solicitation.
Cruchinin was not there to hear the verdict. He asked for, and the judge granted, permission on Tuesday to skip the rest of the trial after a news photographer took his picture in the hallway during a break.
He faces up to a year in jail at his March 13 sentencing.
The conviction at trial was the first for any of the defendants. The first two trials ended in acquittals earlier this year. Thirteen defendants have pleaded guilty and the remaining cases are pending.
Earlier Thursday, Gianelli dismissed charges, for the second time, against another defendant in the sting.
She said the arrest record of Tamir Dardashtian, 40, a Great Neck attorney, said he was charged with soliciting sex from a minor, a felony, and patronizing a prostitute in the third degree, a misdemeanor.
The felony charge was never prosecuted but remained on his arrest record, the judge said.
Gianelli dismissed the misdemeanor charge in December. Prosecutors reargued it Thursday. But she dismissed it again "in the interests of justice" and both times, said prosecutors had made an "egregious" mistake by failing to correct the state record on the felony charge.
She then sealed the entire case file, a common procedure when charges are dismissed.
Rice's office said in a statement: "We strongly disagree with the judge's criticisms and dismissals, which were based on complete distortions of the facts, and we'll be appealing, but the guilty verdict in today's trial . . . is a reminder that patronizing a prostitute is indeed a crime and will be prosecuted thoroughly and fairly."
A Nassau courts spokesman, Daniel Bagnuola, said in a statement: "Judge Gianelli is an experienced, articulate and very well-respected trial judge who has a comprehensive legal background in criminal procedure and the penal law."The judge has about 20 of the 104 cases that were originally brought last April and May.
She acquitted one of the defendants at a bench trial earlier this year. Judge Rhonda Fischer acquitted another man after a nonjury trial last month.