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Nassau judge rebukes prosecutors for failing to return defendant's money in Flush the Johns case

A Nassau judge Thursday scolded prosecutors because they failed to comply with her order to return $100 to an Oceanside man who took the money to a hotel room -- allegedly to patronize a prostitute -- and walked into an anti-prostitution police sting.

Judge Sharon Gianelli of First District Court in Hempstead had ordered the money returned earlier this year, and told prosecutors they were "disingenuous" when they claimed it had not been given back because it was being held by police as potential evidence.

Scott Frankel, 49, argued in court papers that he was entitled to the $100 bill he had put on the hotel room dresser where he met an undercover officer because the judge has ruled it was obtained improperly by arresting officers and cannot be used as evidence.

Frankel's attorney, Justin Feinman of Mineola, said outside court Thursday it did not matter why Frankel had gone to the Garden City hotel room. "There was no crime involved. He is entitled to the return of his money," Feinman said.

Gianelli had said in her earlier ruling that since the money was inadmissible, "there appears to be no basis . . . for keeping it. So, it should be returned."

Assistant District Attorney Steven L. Schwartz said in a letter to the judge in April that his office did not have the legal authority to release the money because it was being held by the police property clerk.

Also, the prosecutor argued, the judge's order suppressing the evidence is being appealed. He said the police Legal Bureau informed him that it cannot release or dispose of the money while the case is active.

"You told the Police Department not to return the money. That position is disingenuous," the judge told Schwartz yesterday. Schwartz tried to object to the judge's comments, but she held up her hands and said repeatedly: "We're done."

Paul Leonard, a spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said in a statement, "As was stated in court, the judge is wrong in her factual summary and wrong to call us disingenuous because we made legal arguments."

Frankel was among the 104 men arrested by police in April and May 2013 in an anti-prostitution sting that was dubbed Flush the Johns by Rice when she publicized the arrests in June 2013.

More than 80 of the men have pleaded to some charge, six of the seven men who went to trial were acquitted and several cases are still pending.

Rice, who was elected to Congress in November, at first insisted that all the men plead guilty to the top charge of patronizing a prostitute in the third degree, a misdemeanor, or go to trial.

A year after announcing the arrests, she modified the policy and allowed all the men to plead to disorderly conduct, a violation of the law which does not rise to the level of a crime.

Vadim Cruchinin, 40, of Queens Village, the only man convicted at trial, was among those who have taken the reduced plea.

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