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Flush the Johns suspects face no criminal charges if they accept plea bargains, take class

Kathleen Rice, who was the Nassau district attorney

Kathleen Rice, who was the Nassau district attorney during "Operation Flush the Johns," goes over the sting's results in Mineola on June 3, 2013. Credit: Howard Schnapp

It was two years ago that Nassau County conducted an anti-prostitution sting aimed at male patrons instead of female prostitutes, but ultimately none of those arrested will end up with a criminal record as long as they take an offered plea bargain.

On June 3, 2013, then-District Attorney Kathleen Rice revealed that 104 men had been arrested in the prior two months and charged with patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor.

Since that time, more than 90 of the men have either pleaded guilty -- or are eligible to plead guilty -- to a noncriminal charge despite Rice's initial insistence that all plead to a misdemeanor crime.

The last defendant with an open case, Scott Manning, 46, of Oceanside, appeared in court Friday and his case was adjourned until next month.

The roundup of alleged patrons was the first time the county had mounted the initiative -- and, to date, the last.

Attorney Brian Griffin of Garden City, who represented five of the arrested men, called it "one of the poorest executed law enforcement stings in recent memory."

Two of his five clients went to trial and were acquitted. Two pleaded guilty to the reduced noncriminal charge and one case that was dismissed by the judge is being appealed by prosecutors, he said.

The lawyer said it made no sense to be appealing a dismissal while allowing other defendants to plead guilty to a noncriminal violation. "That speaks volumes about this entire process, how poorly it has been executed and how inconsistent with justice it has been," the attorney said.

Rice, who was elected to Congress last year, said in a statement last week that recent trends in law enforcement show "there is a national movement toward smarter enforcement policies that focus on the demand side of prostitution and sex trafficking."

Her replacement, acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, said in a statement the sting was successful, but she declined to say whether it would be used again.

She said dismissed cases were being appealed "because we think the judges were wrong on the law."


Rice posted arrest details

When Rice announced the sting, she released the names, ages and hometowns of all 104 men. She also released their mug shots, posted all the arrest information on her website and gave the sting a name: Flush the Johns.

Several detectives who worked on the sting testified during later court proceedings that until the Rice announcement, they had referred to the operation as a "reversal," because it reversed their usual procedure of arresting the prostitutes.

Singas added that it was possible that some of the men would end up with criminal records because 18 who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors have yet to seek the reduced charge.

Professor Melissa Breger of the Albany School of Law said she believes such reverse stings are effective, even if it is hard to quantify. "If nothing else, it raises awareness that this is an epidemic. We have a problem," she said. "It seems to me we need to change the culture and punish the demander and not the supplier."


Publicizing questioned

The public naming, or "shaming," of criminal defendants before they have been convicted has long been debated as a method for deterring crime.

A 245-page report from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012 said there were "compelling arguments both for and against shaming," but "so far the usefulness of the tactic has not been evaluated."

Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares created a webpage in August that publishes the names and pictures of men convicted of patronizing prostitutes.

There are only two men on it so far, but Soares said last week that about a half-dozen other cases are in the pipeline.

"We're hoping that shaming is a deterrent," Soares said. "This is a world where young women are being victimized by thugs. If shaming is what it takes to provide some measure of relief, then I'm going to try it."

The Nassau County Police Department did not respond directly to why it had not mounted more such stings, but said it believes, based in part on its monitoring of social media sites, that prostitution activity has lessened in the county.

"Monitoring these sites is not something that can be quantified, but . . . a decrease in the volume of references to Nassau County locations was noticed after the enforcement effort," Deputy Inspector Gary Shapiro said in an email.

"All current and future enforcement activities are planned and undertaken when appropriate," the email said.

Rice insisted at first that there would be no plea bargains and all the defendants would have to plead guilty to the patronizing charge, which carries a penalty of up to 1 year in jail.


Pretrial challenges

Griffin and other defense attorneys said that prompted many of their clients to mount protracted pretrial challenges in an attempt to avoid having a criminal record.

A year later, on June 3, 2014, Rice revealed that she had changed her policy and that the men would be allowed to plead to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, a violation that falls below the level of a crime and will leave the men without a criminal record from that arrest.

She said the reduced plea would be contingent on the men performing community service and attending a two-hour prostitution awareness class -- often called "johns school."

The six men who contested the charges, went to trial and were acquitted will not be affected by the policy. All the other men have, or will be allowed to take the plea, including the one man convicted at trial.

Four cases were dismissed by judges for legal reasons and prosecutors are appealing those dismissals.

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