Town to fight prostitution with publicity

November 29, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Sixty men arrested in a Wes Palm Beach prostitution sting last week could soon be getting an unpleasant surprise when they open their morning newspaper.

The Police Department and Mayor Nancy Graham want to buy advertisements listing the names of the men arrested in the Wednesday night sting and publish them in daily newspapers that circulate in Palm Beach County.

"We couldn't get anyone to publish them in stories, so Nancy's going to take out ads," police spokesman Sgt. Rob Robertson said Friday. "If you scare the johns, they'll go someplace else. If they go someplace else, the girls leave, too, because they won't have any business."

Coincidentally, the sting operation was conducted the same day the Florida Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that men who responded to a classified ad that hinted at prostitution could no longer protect their identities. The justices ruled that the men, known publicly .. so far as "John Does," forfeited any privacy rights because they had engaged in -- or tried to engage in -- a criminal act.

L The list of names, however, still is secret pending appeals.

The court decision stemmed from a highly publicized case last year involving Jeff Willets, a former sheriff's deputy, who was charged with running a one-woman brothel out of his Tamarac, Fla., home. Willets' wife, Kathy, a former brokerage house secretary and dancer at a nude club, was arrested later on prostitution charges. The couple allegedly kept a list of about 50 male clients.

The Willets faced 35 criminal counts, but they told a national television audience that the business really was therapy for them: She was a nymphomaniac, and he was impotent. The "nymphomaniac defense" soon backfired, and the couple accepted separate plea agreements in February.

Threatening "johns" -- the men who hire prostitutes -- with public exposure is a much more effective deterrent than just taking them to court, police say. Judges are usually reluctant to fill already crowded jails with men charged with solicitation, which is a misdemeanor.

"We wanted to put them in jail under $1,000 bond and make it really inconvenient for them, make life hard for them," Sergeant Robertson said. "But the judges wouldn't go along with it."

Newspapers are also reluctant to publish in news columns lists of men charged with solicitation.

"We don't participate in efforts to become instruments of punishment," said Doug Clifton, executive editor of the Miami Herald. He said the advertising department worked under a different set of standards and could consider running the ads proposed by West Palm Beach officials.

The Palm Beach Post will probably run the ads.

"We'll look at the ad, and we'll publish it if it seems accurate," said Tom Giuffrida, publisher of the Post.

Sergeant Robertson said the city hoped to buy the ads before the arraignment Dec. 8.

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