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Prosecutors drop charges in 'Flush the Johns' case

Nassau prosecutors dropped their case Tuesday against a Hicksville man arrested almost 18 months ago on a misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute.

Assistant District Attorney Corey Briskin told Judge Sharon Gianelli in First District Court in Hempstead that prosecutors felt they could not prove the case against Zaul Buruca, 24, beyond a reasonable doubt. "The charges are dismissed and the case is sealed," Gianelli said.

Buruca was one of 104 men arrested in April and May of 2013 in an anti-prostitution sting that Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice named Flush the Johns. Although a handful of other cases have been dismissed, his was the only one where prosecutors sought a dismissal, and most of the men have pleaded guilty.

In each of the 104 cases, a man is accused of going to a website with sexual content, getting a telephone number for a woman posing as a prostitute and arranging to meet at a local hotel, where he was arrested by undercover officers.

A spokesman for Rice refused to comment Tuesday about the 18-month lag between arrest and dismissal on the grounds that he could not discuss a sealed case.

The spokesman released a statement saying: "Prosecutors are duty-bound to dismiss charges when appropriate and that is exactly what happened in court today. Each case is unique and fact-specific. Though there was probable cause for the arrest, a review of the evidence and witnesses for this specific case led us to conclude that the burden at trial for proof beyond a reasonable doubt could not be met."

Four of the five cases that went to trial ended in acquittals, and defense attorneys in those cases said the offer of money for sex during the telephone conversation was not properly documented, and videos of the hotel-room encounters were inconclusive.

Buruca's attorney, Joel R. Salinger of Commack, said later that he and his client had appeared in court 22 times during the past 18 months and had repeatedly pressed for a trial.

"There was zero evidence" during the phone solicitation, Salinger said. "I viewed the video -- it was nine minutes long -- in February and there was absolutely nothing" that was incriminating, he said. "I watched it over and over again, looking for what they supposedly saw. I had two other attorneys look at it. I had a paralegal look at it. They said 'It's [the evidence] not there,' " he said.

Rice has in the past defended the sting, arguing that most of the men pleaded guilty. As of Tuesday, there have been 82 guilty pleas to misdemeanors or a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, a violation.

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