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Judge questions evidence in latest 'Flush the Johns' case

Judge Sharon Gianelli presides over Juvenile Justice Court

Judge Sharon Gianelli presides over Juvenile Justice Court at District Court on Feb. 8, 2012 in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A judge raised ethical questions Monday about how Nassau County prosecutors prepared a transcript that was used in court in a "Flush the Johns" anti-prostitution case.

Judge Sharon Gianelli of First District Court in Hempstead had refused to allow prosecutors to introduce a video of a motel-room meeting between a "john" and a female undercover detective last April, so a prosecutor showed the detective a transcript of the encounter while she testified to help jog her memory.

After several minutes of testimony from Det. Michelle Clifford, the judge stopped her testimony and asked her to leave the courtroom, then asked the prosecutor how the transcript had been created. Prosecutor Victoria Mauri said it was based on her work, that of her office colleagues and Clifford.

"Do you believe that's appropriate, DA Mauri?" the judge asked the assistant district attorney, saying at another point that the prosecution was "collaborating with the detective to create evidence."

Mauri said the transcript was appropriate, and that the detective "helped to collaborate, to make it more accurate." Mauri added that she could have used the video to jog the detective's memory if the judge had allowed it into evidence.

The judge and the lawyer argued back and forth for several minutes, sometimes talking over each other.

"I'm not sure what was done was ethical and that's my issue," the judge said. She reserved decision on a request by defense attorney Stuart Kanoff to strike that part of the detective's testimony from the record.

Shams Tarek, a spokesman for Nassau DA Kathleen Rice, released a statement later defending the prosecutor's actions, saying, "The preparation and use of this transcript follows well-established law and procedure and an assertion that prosecutors acted unethically would be reckless and wrong."

The exchange came on the first day of the nonjury trial of Vadim Cruchinin, 40, of Queens Village, who is charged with patronizing a prostitute in the third degree. He is the third of 104 defendants to go on trial after being swept up in a "Flush the Johns" sting last year.

The first two trials ended in acquittals, and 11 other defendants have pleaded guilty.

Another prosecutor, Jeffrey Murphy, said in his opening statement that the evidence would show that Cruchinin went on an Internet site used for prostitution purposes, selected an ad posted undercover by the Nassau County Police Department, called the phone number on that ad, went to a motel in Westbury to meet the undercover officer and sought sex.

Kanoff argued that his client never asked for sex in the hotel room, and the detectives running the undercover operation failed to make proper entries in their logs linking him to the phone call in which the solicitation was made.


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