A Mineola man arrested as part of the "Flush the Johns" sting in Nassau County last spring was acquitted Friday on the sole misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute.
"Thank God!" Nicholas Sisti, 51, said as he walked out of the courtroom after the verdict from Judge Rhonda Fischer, who presided at the four-day, nonjury trial in First District Court in Hempstead.
Sisti was the second of the 104 men arrested in the sting to go to trial. The first defendant to go to trial, who has not been publicly identified, was acquitted by another judge late last year.
"We are elated at the judge's verdict of not guilty," Sisti's attorney, Mark Panzavecchia of Garden City, said. "We believe it was consistent with the evidence. In my summation I pointed out 10 points of reasonable doubt. I think the judge could have hung her hat on any one of them . . . I think based on the totality of the evidence we clearly agree with the verdict of not guilty."
The judge did not elaborate on her oral ruling, which came about 20 minutes after Panzavecchia and prosecutors made their closing arguments.
Sisti, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry and a law degree, declined to comment beyond his initial exclamation of "Thank God."
The sting was conducted from last April to May and it marked the first time that Nassau County police had targeted the "johns" instead of the prostitutes. Detectives testified at Sisti's trial that they referred to the sting as a "reversal," but District Attorney Kathleen Rice dubbed it "Flush the Johns" when she made the arrests public in June.
A Rice spokesman Friday said 10 men have pleaded guilty, adding that "this case was especially difficult for a variety of unique factors and while we disagree with the judge's opinion, we respect it and will move forward to continue securing convictions on the cases that remain."
One case was dismissed with the consent of prosecutors, five were dismissed before trial and are being reargued or the charges being refiled, and 86 other cases are pending.
Prosecutors Victoria Mauri and Robert Castillo had sought to show that the totality of Sisti's conduct proved he solicited sex. They said he viewed an Internet ad for escorts, placed a telephone call to a female undercover officer at a number posted in the ad, discussed the price for an hour of her time and then went to meet her at a hotel.
Panzavecchia argued that a brief video of the hotel encounter did not show a solicitation of sex for money, and that Sisti only talked about getting a massage. Sisti had faced up to a year in prison if convicted of the charge of patronizing a prostitute in the third degree.