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Suffolk County has approximately 1.53 million residents, and occupies the central and eastern portion of Long Island, New York. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified as substantial and longstanding crimes in many areas of Long Island, generating complaints to local law enforcement agencies and a wide range of serious felonies, including sex trafficking and the murder of prostituted and trafficked women. In 2018, the Suffolk County Police Department announced that it had established a permanent human-trafficking investigation unit that would focus on those who lure women, girls, and boys into prostitution, often to support other criminal activity, such as drug dealing or gangs. The team was initially staffed by six detectives, including a commanding officer, and two police officers, and had been operating as a temporary unit since May 2017.
The county has been the site of relatively high-end, international prostitution or “escort” rings, as well as low-level local and regional operations facilitated by Craigslist and Backpage (and other websites since those two sites came under scrutiny of law enforcement and legislators, the latter being dismantled), and the laundering of money gained through prostitution and sex trafficking. Problems associated with prostitution throughout both Nassau and Suffolk counties include child sex trafficking, as well as at least two serial killers and possibly single-victim murderers who specifically targeted prostituted women. For example, in Bloods gang member from Deer Park was arraigned for his role in a sex trafficking ring in which he used drugs and fear of violence to force women into prostitution. He was arrested at a Plainview hotel following a three-month investigation by the Suffolk County Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit, and then pleaded not guilty to four counts of sex trafficking and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. A Suffolk County Judge issued protection orders for 19 women who felt threatened by the defendant, and prosecutors alleged the man had lured dozens of women into prostitution since 2014.
In November 2019, a man was arrested after he tried to kidnap two prostituted women and force them to engage in commercial sex acts with him on separate occasions. The man was arrested by the FBI and Suffolk County Police Department and charged with two counts each of attempted trafficking by force and attempted kidnapping. The man sought out victims, solicited them for commercial sex acts, and then arranged another meeting with the women. At that time, he used both force and threats of force to try to take them to a secluded location. The women only managed to escape by jumping from his moving vehicle. The man tried contacting both women after they escaped, in one case trying to take the woman back by force while armed with a weapon. For example, in November, he attempted to take one of the women by force to a wooded area in Coram. When she refused, he threatened to kill her and attempted to stop her from escaping. The victim jumped out of the car and suffered injuries. Police found a knife, handgun, handcuffs, rope, zip ties, and manuals on knot tying in his car. The investigation found that other prostituted women had also reported having violent encounters with the same man. His name, age, hometown, and other identifying information were released to the press. He was convicted in September 2022 of attempted sex trafficking, and faced a minimum of 15 years in prison, and could face life in prison. In September 2022, it was reported that the Route 112 corridor, which includes the area where there is a bus stop and several wooded parcels, has been the subject of numerous community complaints about drug use, prostitution, and other illegal activity for over 10 years.
In June 2021, a man was arrested and charged in a seven-count indictment in federal court in Central Islip with sex trafficking, coercion and enticement of a minor, sexual exploitation of a minor, transportation of child pornography (i.e., child sexual abuse materials), and interstate prostitution. He allegedly used violence and the threat of violence to compel the commission of commercial sex acts by numerous women for his financial benefit, including by minors as young as 15-years-old. He had used social media and other internet applications to establish relationships and groom potential victims, manipulated them into working for him in prostitution, and then effectively enslaved them through acts of force and coercion. He demanded that the proceeds be turned over to him, and any resistance from the victims was met with violence or threats. The defendant allegedly trafficked victims on Long Island, including at motels in East Meadow, Freeport, and Rockville Centre, as well as out of state, including locations in Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina. He also engaged in sexual assault of his victims, including minors, and provided them with illegal narcotics. The man promoted and managed his prostitution business over the Internet, posting sexually exploitative photos of minor victims that he took or persuaded them to take of themselves in order to further his trafficking business.
In July 2023, a suspect was finally arrested in the Long Island serial killer case in which the bodies of four prostituted women were found on Gilgo Beach in December 2010. The suspect’s DNA was found on one of the bodies and his wife’s hair was found on the other three. Calls made from burner phones to the victims were traced to his office. The four women advertised prostitution on Craigslist, which is how police believe he first made contact with them. The man is also being investigated for the murders of six others, including a toddler, whose bodies were found in the same area in 2011. Police said a task force formed by the new DA the previous year cracked the case. The Suffolk County District Attorney said police had been watching the suspect since last year and feared he was about to flee the country. In their surveillance, police observed the man “continued to patronize [prostituted women].” The man’s computer showed he had conducted graphic searches for child sexual abuse materials (i.e., child pornography) and images of women being tortured and sexually abused. He also searched Google for updates on the case. The man pleaded not guilty to three counts of first degree murder and three counts of second degree murder.
To address the demand underlying the area’s prostitution market, which provides the revenue stream for all sex trafficking, the Suffolk County Police Department has conducted periodic street-level reverse stings since at least the early 1990s. As a warning to other sex buyers, police have released the names of arrested sex buyers to news outlets. In December 2005, Suffolk County police collaborated with officers from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a web sting. The operation, dubbed “Operation John 5.0”, targeted solicitation on internet sites like Craigslist and Backpage.com. In just under two months, law enforcement arrested a total of 21 individuals for attempting to purchase or sell sex on the web.
Multiple communities in Suffolk County have also used ‘Dear John’ letters as a demand reduction tactic. For example, in 1991, community watch groups in both Gordon Heights and Wyandanch began sending letters to the homes of suspected sex buyers in their communities. These letters were sent in coordination with the Suffolk County Police Department. For example, in Wyandanch, the Wyandanch Civic Association, then initiated a “Dear John Letter” campaign using a list provided by police, and sent letters to the homes of 63 male sex buyers charged with solicitation. The letters arrived at the men’s homes with the words “Patronizing a Prostitute” written in bold red ink on the envelope and a copy of the police report (with the accused man’s name highlighted) inside.
In October 2020, a well-known Suffolk County doctor and legislator was arrested in Elwood for allegedly attempting to exchange oxycodone for sex with someone he believed was a woman in prostitution. He had been contacted by an undercover police officer posing as a prostituted woman and agreed via text message to provide the undercover officer with oxycodone pills. The man was arrested when he showed up at the arranged meeting location and was found in possession of oxycodone pills. He was charged with several offenses, including patronizing a person for prostitution, attempted patronizing a person for prostitution, criminal possession of a controlled substance, and criminal sale of a controlled substance, and his name, age, and hometown were released to the press. Further investigation revealed the man had allegedly paid multiple women in cash or drugs for sex acts over the course of several years. As a result of the investigation, officials reported that the man’s privileges at Huntington Hospital had been temporarily suspended, including the suspension of his medical license during the length of the case, and that he no longer served as the Chief of Otolaryngology. In addition, he did not run for re-election as a Suffolk County legislator.
For information about city-level efforts to reduce prostitution and sex trafficking within the county, please see Bay Shore, Bellport, Coram, Gordon Heights, Huntington, Huntington Station, Islandia, Mastic, North Amityville, North Bellport, Riverhead, Riverside, Shirley, Southampton, Brookhaven, and Wyandanch.
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “‘John’ Sting Results in 46 Arrests”, Press Release, Suffolk County Police Department, June 4 2007.
- “Six Men Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, Newsday, January 9 2008.
- “Six Arrested in Huntington Station ‘John’ Sting”, Long Island Press, September 25 2009.
- “Six People Arrested During Prostitution Sting”, Suffolk Police Blog, November 22 2011.
Web-Based Reverse Stings:
- “21 Arrests in Long Island Online Prostitution Sting”, Newsday, January 23 2006.
Letters, Neighborhood Action:
- Dear John letters battling prostitution by writing to wives of men arrested. Newsday, June 13, 1991.
- Tape-a-John plan working (1991)
- “Mad as Hell and Fighting Back”, Newsday, February 25 1991.
- “LI ‘Dear John’ Campaign Becomes Lively TV Debate”, Newsday, June 28 1991.
- “Stung by Prostitution, Town Shames Customers”, New York Times, July 18 1991.
- “Communities Take on Patrons of Prostitutes”, USA Today, November 13 1991.
- http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/21/us/town-puts-prostitutes-on-videotape.html (1993)
- “Retaking Straight Path; Wyandanch Residents Target High-Crime Street for Renewal”, Newsday, June 22 1993.
- “Clearing the Path in Wyandanch: Community Hopes Federal Money Aids Revitalization”, Newsday, February 11 2000.
Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:
- https://abc7ny.com/dr-william-spencer-doc-huntington-suffolk-county-doctor-arrests (2020)
- https://huntingtonnow.com/spencer-arraigned-on-multiple-drug-prostitution-charges (2021)
- https://www.audacy.com/li-lawmaker-indicted-on-prostitution-drug-and-other-charges (2021)
- https://www.cbsnews.com/r-will-spencer-pills-for-sex-scheme-oxycodone-suffolk-county-legislator (2021)
Sex Buyer Arrests, Identity Disclosure:
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- http://www.babylonbeacon.com/news/Front_page (2006)
- “Undercover Investigation into Prostitution Leads to Four Arrests”, Suffolk Police Blog, November 3 2011.
- http://babylonvillage.patch.com/articles/three-flushing-women-arrested-in-massage-parlor-raid (2011)
- https://libn.com/babylon-shuts-down-massage-parlors/ (2011)
- https://patch.com/new-york/the-police-blotter-june-13th-through-june-19th (2012)
- http://www.newsday.com/cops-3-arrested-at-west-babylon-massage-parlor (2012)
- “8 Arrested in Suspected Drug, Prostitution Ring”, ABC/WABC-TV 7, August 13 2012.
- https://pix11.com/five-alleged-gang-members-accused-of-running-prostitution-ring-on-long-island/ (2018)
- http://longisland.news12.com/3-women-arrested-on-prostitution-charges-at-suffolk-massage-parlor (2019)
- http://www.townofislip-ny.gov/islip-town-acts-quickly-to-shut-down-drug-prostitution-den (2019)
- https://patch.com/4-charged-suffolk-prostitution-money-laundering-ring-scda (2020)
- https://dailyvoice.com/three-women-nabbed-in-long-island-massage-parlor-raid-after-community-complaints (2020)
- https://suffolkcountyny.gov/four-individuals-arrested-operating-prostitution-money-laundering-enterprise (2020)
- https://www.newsday.com/long-island/crime/massage-parlors-centereach-search-arrests (2020)
- https://dailyvoice.com/woman-charged-with-prostitution-after-raid-at-long-island-massage-parlor (2021)
- https://www.cbsnews.com/dr-will-spencer-pills-for-sex-scheme-oxycodone-suffolk-county-legislator/ (2021)
- https://dailyvoice.com/woman-charged-with-prostitution-after-illegal-nesconset-massage-parlor-raid (2022)
- https://www.smithtownmatters.com/two-arrested-for-prostitution-at-health-spa-in-nesconset (2022)
- https://patch.com/new-york/huntington/suffolk-arrest-report-june-24 (2022)
- https://www.longisland.com/woman-arrested-for-massage-parlor-prostitution.html (2022)
- https://www.longisland.com/two-woman-arrested-for-prostitution-and-unlicensed-massage-in-commack (2023)
- https://dailyvoice.com/2-women-nabbed-for-prostitution-after-raid-at-long-island-massage-parlor (2023)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Sex Trafficking and Forced Prostitution in Long Island”, Examiner, August 10 2009.
- https://www.newsday.com/human-trafficking-investigation-suffolk (2018)
- http://longisland.news12.com/police-2-men-charged-in-suffolk-sex-trafficking-case-involving-a-child (2018)
- https://abc7ny.com/2-charged-in-li-sex-trafficking-involving-12-year-old-girl (2018)
- https://www.shorenewsnetwork.com/hempstead-man-indicted-for-sex-slavery-prostitution-in-suffolk-county/ (2020)
- https://www.longislandpress.com/long-islands-human-trafficking-crisis-thrives-in-shadows (2020)
- https://dailyvoice.com/new-york/suffolk/news/long-island-man-indicted-for-alleged-sex-trafficking-operation (2020)
- https://www.justice.gov/suffolk-county-man-convicted-manhattan-federal-court-sex-trafficking-conspiracy (2021)
- https://www.justice.gov/long-island-gang-member-indicted-sex-trafficking-and-sexual-exploitation-minors (2021)
- https://www.innovateli.com/souls-for-sale-tracking-trafficking-on-long-island (2022)
- https://www.shorenewsnetwork.com/convicted-attempted-sex-trafficking-attempted-kidnapping-unlawful-firearm/ (2022)
- https://newjersey.news12.com/coram-man-convicted-of-attempted-sex-trafficking-faces-life-in-prison (2022)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- Long Island Serial Killer, Wikipedia.
- “Local Prostitute Identified by Police as Murder Victim”, New York Times, October 23 1969.
- “FBI Examines Man’s Computer for Clues in New York Serial Killer Investigation”, FOX News, April 15 2011.
- “Long Island Serial Killer Hunt: Police Release Sketches of Victims”, ABC News, September 20 2011.
- “Police Locate 2 More Bodies Buried on L.I.”, New York Times, June 30 1993.
- “Police: Prostitutes Had Ads on Craigslist”, Schenectady Daily Gazette, June 10 2006.
- “Other Cities Taking Aim at Highrise Prostitution Dens”, Toronto Star, November 11 2006.
- “Without a Serial Killer, Dead Prostitutes Just Don’t Matter”, Long Island Press, January 27 2011.
- Kolker, R. (2013). Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. New York: Harper Collins.
- “Victims’ Families Never Gave Up Hope”, Newsday, July 22 2014.
- “Wood Chips Bolster Case against Long Island Man Accused in 20-Year-Old Murders”, New York Daily News, July 31 2014.
- “Arrest of Convicted Pimp Renews Attention to Unsolved Murder of Scarborough Woman,” Portland Press Herald, November 4 2015.
- https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-dirty-cop-and-the-hunt-for-the-long-island-serial-killer-of-prostitutes (2021)
- https://nypost.com/gilgo-beach-murder-victim-seen-in-new-video-released-by-long-island-police/ (2022)
- https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article/Suspect-Gilgo-Beach-murders-custody (2023)