By NICK BUGLIONE, LIZ GOFF & TAMARA
There is high competition and a high profit margin if your Queens
business is prostitution, according to the Queens District Attorneys office, and the
best way to fight back for a neighborhoods quality of life is to attack the profit
of the worlds oldest profession.
Queens Assistant District
Anthony M. Communiello, Jr., chief of the Civil Enforcement Bureau, explained the Queens
prostitution business profile in a recent interview with the Tribune. According to
Communiello, brothel prostitution is heavy in the Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona
area. Street prostitution gravitates toward Queensbridge, Long Island City and Queens
Plaza, he said.
The brothels will look rather quiet from
the outside. Some feature legal businesses, others are strictly residential buildings, and
the brothel "manager" may only be another tenant.
A lookout, or "doorman," is the
first line of defense at the door. Once a customer makes it inside, they may now be
required to take a shower with the manager, Communiello reported, because law enforcement
activities have been so bad for business that it takes this legal strip down to insure an
undercover cop has not just entered the premises.
Some prostitutes work independently, other
managers will have twenty women working for them. These women will have "punch
cards" which are punched with every new customer that they see. At the end of the
day, the manager can tell how much he has to pay his employee by how many punches there
are on these cards, Communiello said.
Over the past two years, on
the Roosevelt Avenue corridor alone, police at local precincts have joined Queens Vice
cops, police at the Roosevelt Avenue Task Force, the NYPD Legal Bureau and the Queens
District Attorneys office to padlock more than 250 brothels along the commercial
According to the Queens District Attorneys office, a
brothel could be
on any neighborhood street and look
like any other house or business.
According to Communiello, the Queens
District Attorneys office has effected 263 evictions for prostitute-related offenses
since January 1, 1998 and the Police Departments Legal Bureau has padlocked over 100
houses of prostitution over the past two years. From the "street walkers" that
concentrate their activities in Queens Plaza and Long Island City to the brothels that
thrive in Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst, Vice cops and the D.A.s office have
had to become original in their efforts to stop prostitution.
Communiello explained that the illegal act
itself is the exchange of sex for money. "Sex for anything else is not illegal,"
he said, and as a result it is difficult to prove someone is engaging in prostitution
unless an undercover operation catches offer of a business transaction on tape or a former
customer is willing to testify to the illegal purchase. Therefore, Communiellos
Civil Enforcement Bureau works to use Nussiance Abatement Laws, civil lawsuits and the
Bawdy House Statute to address the quality of life issues involved with prostitution.
Communiello explained that the Bawdy House Statute holds a landlord responsible for
evicting a tenant if it is shown "by a preponderance of the evidence" that
illegal activity is taking place.
Last year, the District Attorneys office did a training session
with the Queens Vice Police, Communiello said, to help them know the legal options
available for fighting prostitution. And in turn, Communiellos bureau reviews the
prostitution charges each day to look for sites that have a history or a pattern which
could put them into the civil enforcement realm.
For years, a section of
Forest Park has been known as a hotspot for male prostitution, a gathering spot for
"Its been a problem here for God
only knows," said Tom ONeill, a 49-year-old firefighter and 10-year resident of
These quiet Elmhurst locations were sites of raids and
attempted raids by the D.A.s Civil Enforcement Bureau and the Queens Vice
Enforcement in the summer of last year.
According to ONeill,
prostitution is most rampant approximately a half mile into the park, where Metropolitan
Avenue is on the east side, Park Lane South is on the south side and Union Turnpike is to
Originally hearing rumors of a "Larry
Lane" from his teenage son, a place where men allegedly went to have intercourse,
ONeill learned of the situation first-hand when he began walking his two dogs in the
park. ONeill said hes seen men have sex in the open and in bushes, leaving
condoms, lubricants and other sexually oriented debris in their wake.
"Ive been complaining about this
since Ive been dog walking," said ONeill. "Ive given up,
Ive been complaining so long."
ONeills complaints have not
been ignored by officials at the 102nd Precinct, which covers Forest Park.
Precinct officials told the Tribune
that police set-up a special meeting with ONeill several months ago, attended by the
precinct Special Operations Lieutenant, the area "beat cop," Community Affairs
officers and other ranking officials at the 102nd Precinct. Several representatives from
the Parks Department were also on hand for the one-on-one meeting where ONeill was
encouraged to express his concerns and police advised him of enforcement efforts aimed at
Officials at the 102nd Precinct said they have been concentrating on
the "lovers lane" trying to rid the park of the men and put a stop to
But once again, the greatest enforcement tool available to police has
nothing to do with prostitution or sex acts committed by the transvestites, authorities
The park officially closes at 10 p.m., police said. Anyone caught
inside the park after that time is issued a summons answerable in Criminal Court for
trespassing, and the offender(s) are escorted from the park.
Police said "sector" cops and officials re-enter the park
several times each night, making sure the offenders have not returned and
summonsing others caught after 10 p.m.
"These are regular patrols, carried out night after night,"
officials said. "Its not like we summons and chose those people, then leave the
Officials also said they have not witnessed sex acts involving young
boys or teens and the transvestites.
"Its an ongoing enforcement condition," officials said.
"We are on constant patrol in the area."
CAN'T BUY THEM PROTECTION
A team of Queens Vice cops
proved in September that you cant buy Queens cops. Two Corona brothel managers
allegedly tried to use some of their profit towards protecting their flow of business and
sending the cops in the competitions direction.
Detective Jason Houlihan was no stranger to
suspect Gabriel Trujillo when the two men met outside a brothel on 44th Avenue last
October. Houlihan, who had arrested the brothel lookout at least once prior to their
October meeting, was part of a team of Vice cops who had just raided two brothels nearby.
Trujillo expressed his appreciation for the cops "overlooking" the 44th Avenue
house. So thankful was Trujillo that he spoke with the brothel manager who agreed to pay
the cops to keep the house "safe" from enforcement.
Houllihan got approval from his bosses, and
began a nine-month probe into two brothels (sister operations) that led to 55 bribes
totaling $102,000. The terms were simple. The cops would ignore the 44th Avenue brothel
and another on Roosevelt Avenue, and concentrate instead on shutting down four nearby
The Vice cops busted the brothels, where
they arrested six people and uncovered what police and the Queens District Attorneys
office described as a $2 million-a-year business. The charges included bribery, enterprise
corruption and promoting prostitution.
Then District Attorney Richard Brown filed
a civil lawsuit seeking forfeiture of the nearly $2 million in proceeds from the houses.
AVENUE TASK FORCE
In Jackson Heights, Corona
and Elmhurst, the problem is illegal conversions turned in to brothels, Communiello
explained. Multi-family homes and commercial use space with illegal apartments or
converted basements have become home to tenants that run lucrative prostitution
Police officials in northern Queens have
established a revised course of action to clean out brothels located along Roosevelt
Avenue. The highly-effective Roosevelt Avenue Task Force (RATF) has been refocused to
concentrate efforts on identifying brothels and arresting patrons and prostitutes.
Police will also engage in active
enforcement of illegal acts committed by transvestites who frequent 37th Avenue and
Roosevelt Avenue between 70th and 75th Streets in Jackson Heights.
Residents and merchants along the strip
have voiced numerous complaints to police about the influx of the cross-dressers into the
area. "We have little patience for this type of behavior," said one merchant who
sells material for custom-made saris.
"We want them out of here."
Communiello stressed that
the best first line of defense against prostitution impacting on a neighborhood is the
residents of the neighborhood itself. He urged local residents who have a problem to call
the police departments Queens Vice Squad, report what they have witnessed and leave
their names. Complaints with names attached get priority in investigation and Communiello
said that his office, as well as the police, work hard to structure investigations that
will not require a neighborhood residents testimony. But it is possible that a
neighborhood complainant could be called to testify, he added.
Queens Vice in turn recommended that local
residents call the Departments Organized Crime Control Bureau (OCCB) Field Operation
Desk at 212-374-6620. Police said the desk is a warehouse for prostitution complaints, and
from there the complaint is farmed out to the appropriate squad.
Communiello stressed, "People need to
know that their voice does count, that their neighborhood does count" and they need
to get involved in its quality of life. However, he added, there is no way to stop what
has been dubbed the "worlds oldest profession." This business will move to
the neighborhood site of least resistance and continue in Queens as long as there is the
chance to profit.