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Long IslandNassau

Lawyers for men acquitted in Flush the Johns sting say police didn't record phone calls

Nassau DA Kathleen Rice and Nassau Police Commissioner

Nassau DA Kathleen Rice and Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale announce the results of "Operation Flush the Johns" in Mineola in this 2013 photo. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The lawyers for the four men who went to trial in the Flush the Johns sting and were acquitted said the key weakness in the cases was that police never recorded the telephone calls in which the solicitation of sex for money was supposedly made.

The ensuing meetings in local hotels with female undercover officers were video-recorded, but many of the men did not make an explicit offer of money for sex in those encounters, according to the attorneys and videos played in court.

Prosecutors argued that the videos should be viewed in the context of online ads that solicited the phone calls to female undercover officers, and the words spoken in those phone conversations. But the undercover officers who testified at the trials often could not remember key details of the telephone conversations or the hotel meetings.

"They took away the judge's ability to hear the most important evidence in the case, which they said was the solicitation in the telephone call," attorney Mark Panzavecchia of Garden City said. He was the first attorney to take one of the cases to trial, and he won an acquittal.

One detective on an arrest team in an adjoining room conceded on the witness stand that the words used by the johns were not explicit, but said: "There's little doubt if you're there."

The one defendant who was convicted made an explicit offer of sex for money on the recording in the hotel room.

Prosecutors said most johns were aware they might be dealing with an undercover officer and avoided making a specific offer.

In the trials, defense attorneys accused prosecutors of failing to follow procedures. During one trial, Judge Sharon Gianelli of First District Court in Hempstead told prosecutors: "I'm getting tired of the very sloppy disarray in this case."

Gianelli said the undercover officer posing as a prostitute "lacked sufficient credibility as her ability to recollect the events of the date in question was materially inadequate." Still, the judge said, the video proved that the man offered money for sex.

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