More than 100 men, including local doctors, lawyers and other professionals, were arrested in recent weeks on misdemeanor charges for soliciting sex from undercover police officers at hotels in Nassau County, officials said Monday.
The names, ages and hometowns of all 104 men, ranging in age from 17 to 79, were made public, along with their arrest photos.
Officials conceded arrests of patrons or "johns" are rare -- there were none in the county last year -- but said they were needed to protect the public from crimes associated with prostitution by driving down demand.
"Sex workers are often vulnerable victims of traffickers and pimps, yet they too often remain the prime targets in prostitution investigations while the johns who fuel the exploitation are treated as mere witnesses," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.
Police Commissioner Thomas Dale said the sting operation, called "Flush the Johns," started April 18 after police noticed an increase in crime around "certain hotels," which he would not identify.
The defendants responded to Internet ads police placed for escort services and were told to meet at those hotels, where they were videotaped and arrested after they offered money for sex, officials said.
"These people came into the room expecting to get sex and instead they got arrested," Deputy Inspector Kevin Smith, commanding officer of the police Narcotics Vice Unit, said in an interview.
In a news conference, Dale said, "The Internet has made some of our hotels havens for this crime and the quality-of-life conditions that are associated with this activity."
The president of the Criminal Courts Bar Association, Steven Raiser, released a statement saying disclosing the suspects' names and photos "was intended to publicly stigmatize, shame and embarrass." He added: "This is therefore a flagrant circumvention of our justice system, which constitutes punishment without any semblance of due process."
When asked about the impact of the publicity on the defendants' families, Rice said: "Every person accused of crime, ostensibly, has a family, and these defendants are, I'm sure, no different. I didn't put them on the board," she said of the mug shots. "They put themselves on the board, and they're going to have to explain whatever they have to explain."
She said, however, that publicity was part of the tactic to drive down demand. "I think that today's sting sends a strong message to people in Nassau County cruising Craigslist or Backpage for prostitution services."
About 60 percent of police departments nationwide that make arrests for soliciting prostitution publicize the arrests, according to a study last year funded by the National Institute of Justice.
However, study author Michael Shively said there was insufficient evidence that "shaming" johns was effective. "The results of an evaluation attesting to the effectiveness of shaming would be immediately useful," he wrote.
Attorneys for some defendants criticized the arrests.
"It's kicking them while they're down and subjecting them and their families to further humiliation," attorney William Petrillo of Rockville Centre said.
Attorney Brian Griffin of Garden City said he was considering a lawsuit similar to one he filed in 2008 that forced Nassau County to drop its electronic Wall of Shame where it posted names and mug shots of drunken driving suspects.
"The courts found you cannot aggregate crimes that are not related," Griffin said. "It is unconstitutional if it's done to publicly humiliate or shame people."
All the men have been arraigned on a charge of patronizing a prostitute in the third degree, pleaded not guilty and released. Each faces up to a year in prison if convicted.