For the first time since an anti-prostitution sting landed 104 men under arrest last year, prosecutors offered one of the men a plea deal Wednesday that would leave him without a criminal record in exchange for community service and his attendance at a so-called “john’s school.”
Since the takedown was announced a year and a day ago, the men arrested in the highly-publicized ‘Operation Flush the Johns’ had not been offered deals to plead guilty to reduced charges. Instead, they were left with the option of either pleading guilty to the top charge of third-degree patronizing a prostitute – which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail – or going to trial. During the past year, four men went to trial; three were acquitted.
During a court appearance at Nassau District Court Wednesday morning, John Graff, 45, of Tabernacle, NJ, was offered a plea deal that allowed him to plead guilty to disorderly conduct – an offense that does not rise to the level of a criminal charge – as long as he attends an educational program meant to deter suspects charged with prostitution-related offenses from committing their crimes again and completes 35 hours of community service. The district attorney’s office said the same deal was also being offered to 73 other men whose cases are currently pending. Prosecutors have informed 25 men who pleaded guilty in ‘Operation Flush the Johns’ that they would not oppose a motion to vacate their convictions if the men agreed to attend the classes, known as “john’s school” in other jurisdictions, and performed community service.
“Prostitution is not a victimless crime and johns play an integral role in an industry full of victimization and violence,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement. “This program is another step in an ongoing and multipronged strategy of aggressive enforcement, public awareness, and innovative defendant education.” A district attorney’s office spokesman said their priority has been educating the public about the harm of human trafficking.
According to a report in the Manhasset Times, Rice said during a speech in April that no prostitute is ever prosecuted even if she is arrested. A district attorney’s office spokesman later said prosecutors aim to resolve criminal charges against women charged with prostitution with an ultimate outcome of a non-criminal disposition. He said they routinely refer the women to social service programs.
‘Operation Flush the Johns,’ a month-long undercover operation, targeted men who responded to advertisements posted to Backpage.com and arranged to meet with undercover police officers who were posing as prostitutes. From April 18, 2013 to May 24, 2013, police arrested 104 men during the sting operation. In the ten years prior to that, less than 40 men were arrested for patronizing a prostitute in Nassau County, prosecutors have said.