Nassau County Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) on Thursday criticized congressional primary opponent Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s decision to allow men charged with soliciting a prostitute in last year’s “Flush the Johns” sting operation to plead to a lesser charge as part of a new program that the district attorney said would help curb sex trafficking.
The deal was introduced on Wednesday as part of the district attorney’s office’s new RESET program – which stands for the Real Effects of Sale, Exploitation and Trafficking – and would allow first-time solicitation defendants and those who have recently pleaded guilty to similar charges to complete a two-hour class on the effects of human trafficking in exchange for a non-criminal disorderly conduct charge and 35 hours of community service.
Abrahams, who is opposing Rice in the Democratic primary for the 4th Congressional District, said in the e-mail to supporters that the plea deal option shows that Rice (D-Garden City) “is more interested in snagging headlines than fairly dispensing justice.”
“Her sudden decision to allow individuals who were arrested as part of the “Flush the Johns” program to plea to lower charges is mystifying and irresponsible,” the e-mail read. “It becomes crystal clear that this entire operation was nothing more than a charade aimed at gaining cheap political points.”
Efforts to reach Rice’s campaign Friday were unavailing.
Rice spokesman Eric Phillips told Newsday that Abrahams “doesn’t ever have any idea what he’s talking about, so our policy is to ignore his campaign and let the policy experts and records of accomplishment speak for themselves.”
Though Rice has already received the endorsement of the state Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, she and Abrahams will square off in a June 24 primary for the Democratic nomination for the 4th Congressional District seat currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), who plans to retire this year at the completion of her ninth term in Washington.
The Fourth Congressional District of New York includes the communities of Baldwin, Bellmore, East Meadow, the Five Towns, Lynbrook, Floral Park, Franklin Square, Garden City, Hempstead, Long Beach, Malverne, Merrick, Mineola, Carle Place, New Hyde Park, Oceanside, Rockville Centre, Roosevelt, Uniondale, West Hempstead and Westbury.
The month-long “Flush the Johns” sting resulted in the arrests of 104 alleged johns from throughout Nassau County and its surrounding areas.
Residents from Great Neck, Glean Head, Manhasset, Mineola, New Hyde Park, North Hills and Roslyn were arrested in the operation, in which the alleged johns were apprehended after responding to an online escort advertisement placed by Nassau County police and arriving at local hotels for a rendezvous.
Rice was criticized in the aftermath of the June 3, 2013 news conference announcing the operation for revealing the names of the accused – many of them doctors, lawyers, bankers and teachers – and because several of the subsequent cases were thrown out of court.
“Kathleen Rice claims to be a protector of women from exploitation – but if this were the case she should prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law,” Abrahams wrote to supporters. “Inside deals are exactly what is wrong with Washington, let’s make sure that we don’t send another political wheeler and dealer there.”
Rice during a speaking engagement in April at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock touted the success of her office’s Human Trafficking Court program, which provides services and resources to help prostitutes escape a lifestyle that Rice said was comparable to slavery.
The Human Trafficking Court handled 295 cases in its first year following its inception in October 2012 and helped 126 defendants receive counseling, housing assistance, medical and education programs as well as immigration assistance, according to Rice’s office.
The RESET program is a partnership between Rice’s office and the Safe Center LI and the Sanctuary for Families, two organizations that help fight against human trafficking on Long Island.
“We’ve partnered with human trafficking and public health experts with the goal of fighting human trafficking by cutting the demand for commercial sex. Prostitution is not a victimless crime and johns play an integral role in an industry full of victimization and violence,” Rice said in a statement on Wednesday. “This program is another step in an ongoing and multi-pronged strategy of aggressive enforcement, public awareness, and innovative defendant education. We won’t be backing down from making cases that we know will save lives.”
Cynthia Scott, executive director of The Safe Center LI, said, “Most of the women in our trafficking program have long standing trauma histories and many were brought into the ‘life’ when they were young adolescents. Our work with the RESET Program will allow us to begin to reframe this issue in the community and help people – especially johns – understand this is not a victimless crime and by participating in prostitution they are helping to revictimize these women.”
Judge Judy Kluger, the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, said, “We are appreciative of the efforts of District Attorney Kathleen Rice in helping to raise the awareness of the impact of demand in human trafficking. Human trafficking is fueled by the demand for commercial sex from adults and children. The answer is a comprehensive response that protects victims and holds sex buyers and traffickers responsible.
In other developments:
• Rice’s campaign on Thursday announced she has received the endorsement of the state teachers union, which is comprised of 1,200 local unions and more than 600,000 teachers and school professionals across the state.
According to Rice’s campaign, more than 28,600 members of the New York State United Teachers live within the 4th Congressional District.
“I have tremendous respect for this organization and for the service that NYSUT’s members provide our communities. These are men and women who run our schools, keep our children safe and healthy, and prepare them for successful futures. I’m thrilled to welcome NYSUT to our team and I’m looking forward to fighting alongside its members to secure full funding for the students and schools that need it most, and to provide all of our teachers with the comprehensive support and ongoing development they need to best serve our students.”
Karen E. Magee, the president of New York State United Teachers, said in a statement, “Kathleen Rice has a well-earned reputation as an independent, hard-working public servant who has used her eight years as Nassau County district attorney to fight for justice and fairness. Our membership believes she will continue her stellar record and fight for public education, health care and the middle class when elected to Congress. We are proud to recommend her endorsement.”
The union’s endorsement is the latest of several major organizations and politicians to announce their support for Rice, including the building trades councils of Nassau, Suffolk, and New York City, the New York State Council of Machinists, the New York Hotel Trades Council, the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union, United Food & Commercial Workers, City Employees Local 237 (Teamsters), the Working Families Party, the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road Action Fund, state Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, McCarthy (D-Mineola), U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, EMILY’s List, the Women’s Campaign Fund, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
• Abrahams on Wednesday unveiled his plan on gun control, saying he would immediately sponsor legislation to require universal background checks on all firearm sales, document ammunition sales and reinstate a ban on assault weapons.
According to Abrahams’ campaign, gun control programs he has implemented within his Legislative district have reduced shootings by 75 percent.
“As a county legislator for the past 12 years, I have proven my dedication to reducing gun violence within my district and in Nassau County. I am the only candidate in this primary election with the right Legislative experience needed to work in a bipartisan manner that this issue requires,” Abrahams said. “Although my opponent has been in this race for a month longer than I have, she has yet to formally address these critical issues.”
“Therefore, I urge Kathleen Rice to provide us with her plan to reduce gun violence in troubled communities in this district, and specifically, how she plans to address the issue of gang-related homicides perpetrated with illegal firearms,” he added. “The children and families of this district deserve an answer.”
Rice has said reducing gun violence would be a key issue in her bid to succeed McCarthy in Washington.
McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son was seriously injured in a 1993 shooting on a Long Island Railroad car at the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City, told Blank Slate Media in January that “I know [Rice] knows that gun violence has a lot of aspects to it.”