NYC DA to Investigate Gay ’Prostitution’ Arrests

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday March 9, 2009

Members of the Coalition to Stop the Arrests, a gay group protesting police stings that nab gay men in adult businesses for allegedly "loitering for the purpose of prostitution," have met with the District Attorney for Manhatten over the arrests.

A Mar. 9 article in the Gay City News said that Coalition founder Robert Pinter, who was motivated to establish the group by his own arrest, and Coalition member Joey Nelson attended the Mar. 6 meeting with DA Robert Morgenthau, along with an array of other individuals, officials, and organizations.

Nelson is also the Queer Justice League's coordinator, the article said.

The article quoted Nelson as saying, "The first thing Morgenthau said was, 'We are going to investigate all these cases."

The meeting lasted about an hour, and gave concerned New Yorkers, citizens and officials alike, hope that the matter would be taken seriously.

At issue are a string of about 30 arrests at a handful of adult-oriented establishments, some of which were targeted for closure under "nuisance abatement" laws.

But the question in the minds of gay New Yorkers is whether the video shops and other businesses they frequent were marked for closure in advance, with their arrests taking place as a justification for shutting the establishments down.

Pinter's own case suggests that the straightforward story told by the police may not be all that is going on with the sting operations.

Pinter's story has appeared in several places in the GLBT media, including EDGE.

The 52-year-old massage therapist related how an attractive young man allegedly approached him at the Blue Door video shop last October. As it turned out, the man was an undercover police officer.

The young man was "charming and persistent, and we agreed to go home for consensual sex, but as we were leaving he said, 'I want to pay you $50 [for sexual services]," Pinter said, adding, "I didn't respond, but I thought it was strange."

Then a number of other undercover police who were waiting outside hustled Pinter up against a wall. Because they did not identify themselves as police, Pinter said, "I thought I'd been set up by a gang."

Added Pinter, "I asked them why they were doing this to me. I was totally clueless.

"They handcuffed me and said, 'Why the fuck do you think we're arresting you--loitering for the purpose of prostitution.'"

Pinter said that he then spent several hours in a van before he was taken to police headquarters, where he spent another "16 or 17 hours," after which a Legal Aid lawyer "strongly suggested I plead guilty to disorderly conduct."

Pinter took that advice--and now wishes that he hadn't. Angered by his arrest and the outcome, he's started the Coalition to Stop the Arrests.

Said Pinter of the meeting with the DA, "They were going to go back and start looking at all the individual cases.

"They really seemed genuinely concerned that something wrong was happening here."

Other officials have also expressed concern and outrage, including Christine Quinn, the openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, and openly gay state Sen. Thomas Duane, who headed up the Mar. 6 meeting.

Said Nelson, "I thought Tom Duane was very, very strong in putting out the lay of the land.

"He called [the stings] homophobic," Nelson added. "He said it was a set-up."

Openly lesbian State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick was also at the meeting, the article reported. Said Pinter, "...Deborah Glick chimed in a really forceful way."

Added Pinter, "They were just very outspoken."

The meeting followed one last month between officials, including Quinn, activists, and the city's police, who denied any entrapment but said that they had suspended sting operations for the time being.

Morgenthau suggested that it was possible that some of the men who have chosen to take their cases to court, rather than pleading guilty to a lesser charge, may see the charges against them dropped, the article said.

Said Nelson, "He said that those would be easier to act on, but there was no promise of automatic dismissal.

"He said they would investigate those cases and that those would be the first that they would investigate," Nelson continued.

The article noted that the DA's office has already prolonged some of the cases; one speculation is that Morgenthau may be attempting to run the clock out on the cases so that they will be dropped.

More problematic would be the reversal and expunging of guilty pleas such as the one that Pinter entered at the advice of his Legal Aid counsel and later regretted.

However, such repair to the records of those who pleaded guilty rather than face prostitution charges would not be impossible. Noted Nelson, "Those cases would have to be brought forward by the individuals.

"At this point, we should be doing an all-points bulletin that people who have been arrested should be contacting the district attorney's office to ask if their cases can be vacated."

Said Pinter, "The message, at least in the DA's office, was heard really loud and clear," the article reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.