VICE SQUAD'S BIG 'NET LOSS'
By LARRY CELONA
New York Post - 03/27/2009
The NYPD quietly shut down its highly successful Vice Squad operations on Craigslist without any explanation to the officers, The Post has learned.
The move came after five years of targeting sex-for-cash ads on the site, which led to arrests in all five boroughs, sources said.
Craigslist was the Web site of choice for Brooklyn newsman George Weber, who used the online marketplace to solicit rough sex from his alleged killer, self-described Satanist John Katehis, 16.
The Queens teen was arrested Wednesday and charged with brutally stabbing Weber to death after agreeing to choke and masturbate the 47-year-old ABC News Radio personality for $80. He has pleaded not guilty.
The Vice Squad Craigslist program was shut down about 18 months ago, sources told The Post. But NYPD spokesman Paul Browne insisted it happened as long as three years ago because a new commanding officer of the squad thought it was "a waste of resources."
Before the NYPD shut down the Craigslist vice operations, officers would regularly set up similar illicit meetings with prostitutes, usually in hotel rooms, by responding to ads and arresting all parties involved, the sources said.
It was not uncommon for the squads to conduct up to two stings a night when the operation was in full swing.
The shutdown came suddenly and with little explanation, the sources said.
"It sounds like it's a safety issue," a former vice investigator said. "They never said why, they just said, 'No more.' "
Sources said the department still monitors the site for other criminal activities, such as fraud.
Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster yesterday condemned the illegal use of the site, saying a host of measures had been taken to stamp out illicit activity.
Meanwhile, prostitution stings in general have seen a significant slowdown since the NYPD late last month began requiring all operations to be cleared by Organized Crime Control Bureau head Chief Anthony Izzo, sources said.
Cases are being kicked back by the department for further investigation or information, significantly slowing arrests, the sources said.
The move came after anger boiled over in the gay community over the arrest last October of 53-year-old massage therapist Robert Pinter, who was approached by a younger man and offered money for sex in the adults-only section of an East Village video store.
The man turned out to be a cop and Pinter was charged with loitering for the purpose of soliciting sex.
Pinter and two dozen men, mostly members of gay-rights organizations, protested on Feb. 14 outside Mayor Bloomberg's East 79th Street town house.
They accused undercover Vice Squad cops of entrapment, claiming they flirted with customers in Manhattan shops, offering money for sex.
Commissioner Ray Kelly soon after called the head of the OCCB and others to Police Headquarters following accusations that vice cops were making the dubious arrests.
Additional reporting by Murray Weiss and David Hastie