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City Settles Four Porn Suits

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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 cops 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 Street and Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, while the fourth, a straight man, was arrested at a West 34th Street spa after he went there to apply for a job as a driver.

Among five challenges to ’08 arrests, only Robert Pinter’s unresolved

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

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

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

Altogether, vice cops arrested 30 men in six porn shops. Another 11 men and one woman were busted for prostitution in two spas. The same group of officers in the vice squad 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 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 the two agencies brought against the porn shops and spas.

Pinter declined to comment, as did Spiegel.

In an email, a Law Department spokeswoman wrote, “Since some elements of the settlements of these cases remain unresolved, we are unable to comment at this time.”

That likely means that Spiegel and the city are still litigating his “reasonable attorneys’ fees, expenses, and costs” and both sides see little value is saying something publicly that might antagonize the other party.

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.

In 2010, the city unsuccessfully sought a summary judgment in Pinter’s lawsuit. The city has appealed that denial, and his case is not proceeding while that appeal is ongoing.

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 and the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The police department, which did not respond to an email seeking comment, may oppose settling with Pinter.

In court filings, the city has noted that it has had settlement discussions with Pinter. Clearly, the city changed its mind and will continue with its appeal.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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