Craigslist crimes defense attorney explains common NYC arrests
Recently we have noticed an uptick in the number of arrests made by NYPD following investigations of advertisements on the popular website Craigslist (and to a lesser extent: the website Backpage). Though these websites can facilitate an almost limitless variety of crimes, the ones most commonly associated with these sites relate to prostitution-related services and sales of controlled substances/narcotics.
Controlled substances (Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, Penal Law Chapter 220)
We recently defended a young woman charged with selling prescription Adderall via craigslist (other recent Craiglist-related arrests have involved Percocet, Oxycodone, and Roxycodone). These types of cases tend to follow the same script: to begin, undercover narcotics officers periodically scan craigslist for advertisements – some of them coded – made by people with prescription pills for sale. Contact is then initiated – by email or telephone – and those conversations between the undercover and seller are preserved and/or recorded. Finally, a delivery is agreed upon, and after the sale is made, so is an arrest. For this particular crime and assuming a fairly low level quantity, the top applicable charge would be Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Fifth Degree, a Class D felony under Penal Law Section 220.31. (This charge applies to the sale of a variety of controlled substances like ecstasy and other prescription drugs but not to narcotics drugs like cocaine or heroin, for which the higher Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, a Class B felony under Penal Law Section 220.39, applies). Unfortunately, these charges are practically indefensible under these fact scenarios. Thus, the defense attorney’s job is to present favorable aspects of the client and hope to negotiate a favorable disposition, or, in the case of a person with a substance addiction, lobby for a diversion program. For what it’s worth, our client was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor with probation, whereas the other young man – represented by a public defender – is being forced to plead guilty to a felony with prison time.
The other major illicit item sold on craigslist (and backpage) is sex. The main charge – Prostitution – is a class B misdemeanor under Penal Law 230.00 punishable by up to 60 days in jail (also, there are serious potential immigration consequences for non-citizens). A person is guilty of it when he or she “engages or agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.” Notably, then, the mere posting of an advertisement that offers sex in return for a fee can make one as guilty of this charge as actually turning a trick, so to speak. Of course, posters on craigslist and backpage have circumvented this problem somewhat by using coded language that is potentially open to interpretation, but undercover police officers tend to pursue these cases until a more explicit deal is agreed upon, and are also generally competent to testify as to the true meaning of the coded words used in the industry.
Not just prostitutes are subject to potential arrest, however. Pimps, madams, and other “promoters” of prostitution can actually suffer harsher penalties. The lowest level Promoting Prostitution in the Fourth Degree (Penal Law 230.20) is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Higher charges under Penal Law Sections 230.25, 230.30, and 230.32 can be sustained where a pimp or madam supervises multiple prostitutes or employs underage prostitutes. For more on these charges, click here.
Finally, when these investigations into Craigslist and Backpage prostitution advertisements become long investigations, misdemeanor and felony charges (such as Patronizing a Prostitute, Penal Law Section 230.04, a Class A misdemeanor) can be levied against johns that solicited sex for money on the internet. Also, law enforcement has recently pursued the money launderers that helped finance illegal “massage parlors” and “escort services” advertising primarily online. In the latter case, serious felony charges of Enterprise Corruption (Penal Law 460.20) and Money Laundering can be levied. (Notably, our office represented an individual and corporation charged with this sort of conduct).
All of these charges can be defended in a variety of ways depending on the circumstances but may ultimately require a skilled advocate that can negotiate the best possible disposition to help the accused avoid jail or deportation. If you or a loved one have been arrested or charged with a crime stemming from craigslist or backpage, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP include three former Manhattan prosecutors, and they have successfully defended numerous individuals charged with controlled substance and prostitution-related crimes stemming from craiglist and backpage investigations.