Volume 80, Number 36 | February 3 - 9, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

City settles in ‘false’ porn busts

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE

New York City has settled lawsuits with four men who sued in federal court after they were arrested for prostitution by vice officers in a Manhattan porn shop and a spa.

The city, however, will continue fighting the federal case brought by Robert Pinter, the gay man who blew the whistle on the vice squad busts and the only man among all those arrested to go public.

Three of the men were arrested in Unicorn DVD, located at 27th St. and Eighth Ave. in Chelsea, while the fourth, a straight man, was arrested at a W. 34th St. spa after he went there to apply for a driver’s job.

One of the men arrested in Unicorn DVD received $25,001 in his settlement. The other three received $40,001 each.

Their attorney, Michael Spiegel, got “reasonable attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs,” according to filings on pacer.gov, the federal courts Web site.

All the arrests, which are seen as false arrests in the gay community, were made in 2008 by Manhattan South Vice Enforcement Squad officers.

Altogether, vice officers arrested 30 men in six porn shops. Another 11 men and one woman were busted for prostitution in two spas. The same vice officers made most of the arrests.

Five of the men, including Pinter, brought four federal lawsuits. Another man sued in state court.

Some of the men who were arrested told Gay City News, The Villager’s sister newspaper, they were approached by a younger man who aggressively flirted with them. It was only after they agreed to a consensual sex act that the young man, who turned out to be an undercover officer, said he would pay for the sex. Some men said they refused the money or, as in Pinter’s case, said nothing and they were arrested.

The city’s Law Department and the Police Department’s Legal Unit cited the prostitution arrests in separate nuisance abatement lawsuits they brought against the porn shops and spas.

Pinter declined to comment, as did Spiegel.

In an e-mail, a Law Department spokesperson wrote, “Since some elements of the settlements of these cases remain unresolved, we are unable to comment at this time.” The Police Department did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The city has aggressively litigated Pinter’s case from the start, but then the facts in his case are different from the other cases. Pinter initially pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He later had that plea vacated and the charges dismissed. The other men contested their cases, and their charges were dismissed.

Pinter has been a vocal critic of the Police Department’s handling of these arrests. He has organized multiple protests and held meetings with city officials.

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