City Law Department Says Mayor’s Office Ordered Video Store Busts

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Robert Pinter with his attorneys Jeffrey A. Rothman and James I. Meyerson outside the US District Court on Peal Street in Manhattan. | COURTESY: ROBERT PINTER
Robert Pinter with his attorneys Jeffrey A. Rothman and James I. Meyerson outside the US District Court on Peal Street in Manhattan. | COURTESY: ROBERT PINTER

Material unearthed in a federal lawsuit brought by a gay man who charges he was falsely arrested for prostitution in a Manhattan porn shop in 2008 suggests the Bloomberg administration was actively involved in directing such prostitution arrests at that time.

Police arrested at least 30 men for prostitution in at least six Manhattan porn shops in 2008. The arrests, widely seen as false arrests in the queer community, were used in nuisance abatement lawsuits brought by the police department or the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement that were intended to shut the porn shops down.

Robert Pinter, 57, was among 12 men arrested in Blue Door Video, an East Village porn shop. He sued the city in 2009.

Bloomberg’s special enforcement unit directed an arrest be made on day of Robert Pinter’s false prostitution charge

With discovery in Pinter’s case “largely completed,” his lawyer said in court on April 18, he learned that a still unidentified staffer in the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement called police on the day of his arrest and instructed officers in the Manhattan South Vice Enforcement Squad to go to Blue Door and arrest someone.

“Her office called the commanding officer of Manhattan South and asked to go to the Blue Door and asked them to get an arrest,” said James I. Meyerson, Pinter’s attorney, referring to Shari C. Hyman, then the director of the office. “There is no question that they would not have gone to the Blue Door, but for that call.”

Dara Olds, an attorney in the city’s Law Department who is defending the city, said in court that the call was made.

“That phone call, we don’t contest, was made from the mayor’s office,” Olds said.

In 2009, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the police department was in charge of the effort. The police pointed to taxpayer complaints about prostitution in the porn shops as the impetus for the arrests.

Activists who have followed the controversy suspect that the arrests were a pretext and the goal was to produce arrests that could be used in the nuisance abatement lawsuits. Starting in the Giuliani administration, City Hall has had an ongoing effort to eradicate porn shops in Manhattan.

The circumstances of the arrests added further fuel to activists’ suspicions. Most of the men were in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, unlikely ages for prostitutes. They were approached by young men, who turned out to be undercover vice cops, who aggressively flirted with them. After the men agreed to consensual sex, the undercover cops said they would pay for the sex. The men were then arrested for prostitution. Eight of the 12 men arrested in Blue Door were between 42 and 54.

Some of the arrests appeared ridiculous. Four of the men arrested in Blue Door were from out of state, from as far away as California and Virginia. Two men were a couple, 37 and 44, who traveled to New York City from Europe and were staying in the Astor on the Park Hotel on Central Park West. Allegedly, they agreed to accept $20 each for anal sex.

Other facts in the Blue Door nuisance abatement lawsuit suggest that the special enforcement office was directing the work of police.

The shop was temporarily closed in June 2008 after police made 10 prostitution arrests there. To reopen, the owner agreed to pay hefty fines and to bar “lewdness, assignation, or prostitution” in the shop, according to an agreement he signed with the city. Assignation could be two men meeting in the shop and agreeing to have sex elsewhere, an entirely legal activity.

In August of that year, an undercover officer reported looking through a glory hole in a buddy booth in the shop and seeing two men engaging in oral sex. He did not make an arrest. When that same officer later solicited one of those two men, the man said, “No, I don’t want your money, only your body.”

The activities observed by the officer violated the agreement Blue Door inked with the city, so the undercover’s report of those occurrences suggest that officers were instructed by the special enforcement office to look for and document such violations.

In 2011, a federal appeals panel eliminated some of the defendants named in Pinter’s lawsuit and some of his claims. He is now pursuing multiple claims, including excessive force resulting from his being handcuffed for three hours following his arrest and malicious prosecution stemming from the phone call that led to his arrest.

The city’s position in court was that Blue Door’s owner could complain that the phone call led to harm because the act was directed against the shop, but that Pinter could not because the instruction was not to arrest him specifically.

“I don’t think there is any evidence of malicious prosecution with respect to his client,” Olds said.

The mayor’s press office referred calls to the city’s Law Department. A spokesperson there, in an email message, said, “The city's position on this issue remains consistent. The fact is, there was a pattern of community complaints about illegal activity at the store, and the city has responded to it appropriat­ely.”

Pinter is one of five men who were arrested who sued in federal court. A sixth man sued in state court. The city has designated Pinter’s case a “no pay” case and is refusing to settle. The state court case is also unresolved. The other plaintiffs negotiated settlements.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Simon says:
I wonder whether the Mayor's Office also ordered the crackdown on cruising in Prospect Park?
April 24, 2013, 8:27 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
You don't need to be visiting a sex shop to be persecuted. Last night, while visiting an eatery in Sydney's (Australia) Chinatown, I was subject to a conversation, at a nearby table, declaring, "gay people want to marry, and adopt children, because they're pedophiles". Is it any wonder we're being arrested in businesses, and being subject to being shot in city parks?
April 25, 2013, 12:26 am
max says:
Bloomberg is as horrible as Giulliani but able to keep it under wraps. Just like Giulliani he doesn't like the things that make NYC what it is so he uses his personal army as he likes to call it to enforce his will, but unlike Giuliani he hides behind layers of management and people don't realize what an enemy of civil liberties he really is. The entrapment in these cases is disgusting, I wish Mr. Pinter could sue Bloomberg himself.
April 25, 2013, 10:10 am
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
Here I go again. I have 169,000 words and five chapters to go on my true experience book of volunteering as a mole for the police in the Central Park Ramble in order to keep the guys from being arrested. You'll be surprised what Giuliani covered up in the time that my book spans. And where was Ms. Quinn when the King was in the counting house? In the parlor eating bread and honey!
April 25, 2013, 10:35 am
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
The King, of course being Bloomberg. And the Queen being....well Ms. Quinn natually.
April 25, 2013, 10:57 am
ludwig says:
ONly stupid ignoramuses with minds so closed that if they were forced open they would shatter to smithereens would make such a statement.
April 25, 2013, 5:46 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
Well, they say charity starts at home. Perhaps Bloomberg would like to use his "personal army" to clean up the real abuses of civil liberties occurring in New York city; the child abuse going on in the orthodox jewish community.
April 25, 2013, 6:13 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
"In the parlour"? She needn't bother, she'd look better being herself!
April 25, 2013, 7:52 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
You must have a British spell check. Mine wouldn't accept that spelling. I hope we won't have to see any of her determined looks after next November.
April 25, 2013, 8:06 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
Yes Ludwig, I nearly choked on my sweet & sour!
April 25, 2013, 8:11 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
Simon, do you think it might be worse if Christine becomes mayor, especially now she's married? I mean, there are, effectively, two Mrs Quinns!
April 25, 2013, 8:53 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
I'm sure there is only one driving the get away car!
April 25, 2013, 10:49 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
...and I thought all gay marriage was equal!
April 26, 2013, 1:19 am
Stuart Baanstra says:
Well, what ever the spelling, it's all a little bit off-topic. Do you think we'd ever see Bloomberg or Quinn in a sex shop, or do you think all their sex just comes naturally?
April 26, 2013, 1:28 am
Stuart Baanstra says:
"They were approached by young men, who turned out to be undercover vice cops, who aggressively flirted with them"? This is where San Francisco's nudity was light years ahead. Had nudity been legal in New York, there'd be no need for flirting because all their wares would be laid out in the open. Hell, there wouldn't even be a need for a sex shop!
April 26, 2013, 1:48 am
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
' "......or do you think all their sex just comes naturally?" Frankly, my dear. I can't imagine anyone wanting to teach it to them.
April 26, 2013, 11:28 am
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
Would you believe that I was entrapped in Central Park after I turned a strangler in? The young jerk was a graduate of the Sliway School of Law Enforcement and didn't know he was arresting the police department's park mole. I had him taken off the force. I just got a copy of my conviction record from Albany-long story-and have included it in my soon to be published manuscript. Some young snot cops just arrest guys under set up false pretenses to see what it feels like to exert the power of, ' "making a collar."
April 26, 2013, 12:06 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
Pearly, would you believe it, I've been arrested too? The last time was for "Offensive Conduct" for walking through Sydney's CBD dressed in nothing more than a g-string. I was standing for elected office on nude rights. My arresting officer was also young and I don't think he liked the idea of an openly-gay man coming towards him in a teeny-weeny black number!
April 26, 2013, 6:09 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
You would have loved the, I assume, now defunct New York City Group called SEX PANIC. That's written about in my book also. And there's two E's and no A in Perley.
April 26, 2013, 8:36 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
Yes, Perley, our spelling errors got us into trouble before. Blooming-hell!
April 26, 2013, 9:39 pm
max says:
that's a worthy topic but what does it have to do with this, the people of NYC should be outraged that the mayor ordered these false arrests
April 26, 2013, 9:43 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
Perley, just to clarify, the strangler was a policeman? Thank goodness you had him taken off the force!
April 26, 2013, 11:23 pm
Stuart Baanstra says:
Max, it has everything to do with these "arrests". It may be argued the arrests occurred as a result of homosexuality being viewed as an abomination. Now, my history tells me we were first viewed as abominable in the bible, the jewish bible at that, and here we have sections of the jewish community continuing to call us that while they're abusing children. Aren't they the real abomination?
April 27, 2013, 12:18 am
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
No, the strangler was a mental patient from a nearby well known hospital. The policeman wasn't on the force when it happened so he didn't know about my part in the arrest. But, after he arrested me on a trumped up charge he very soon found out! You'll just have to read the book. 171.000 words and counting.
April 27, 2013, 1:56 am
prsnofintrst says:
Perley I would love to read your book. I'm a student filmmaker making my thesis film on this very topic. Please let me know where I can pick up a copy. Thanks!
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Feb. 28, 2018, 12:30 am
SexToyOrgasm says:
I can't understandit. What is the relation between a sexshop and prostitution? If you have a sextoys store and someone who practices prostitution enters your store you can't know who is him or she and how she o he earns money. If you want to erradicate prostitution, you must change people's mind with education.
May 4, 2018, 4:30 am

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