Most of the 160-plus men arrested in Indian River County during a prostitution sting earlier this year could have the charges against them dropped if they agree to enter a diversion program now being offered by the State Attorney’s Office.
Under the terms negotiated between prosecutors and defense lawyers, the accused men would have to sign a contract that requires them to pay more than $700 in fees, complete an online course on prostitution and human trafficking awareness, and undergo six months of probation-like supervision.
Though defendants are not required to admit guilt, they must enter a “no contest” plea that prosecutors will hold in abeyance until all the conditions of the deal are met.
If the men successfully complete the diversion program, the charges of soliciting prostitution will be dropped. However, if the men fail to satisfy any of the terms, prosecutors may use the pleas to convict them.
Vero Beach attorney Andy Metcalf, who represents more than two dozen of the men, said the defendants can apply for early termination of the supervision part of the diversion program after 90 days if they have met all program’s conditions. He expects many of his clients to opt for diversion.
“Now they have a chance, 90 days from the time they enter the program, to put all this behind them and either start over or move on with their lives,” Metcalf said last week, when word of the State Attorney’s Office’s latest offer was leaked to Vero Beach 32963.
“These guys have families,” he added. “They have lives that have been shattered by this, and all over a misdemeanor. They need to heal, and this gives them a chance to start the healing process. I just wish some of these guys had been offered diversion from the outset.”
Last month, county judges in Indian River and Martin counties ruled that secret surveillance videos recorded by local law-enforcement agencies could not be used as evidence against the accused men in the sex-for-pay cases because detectives failed to minimize the invasion of privacy.
Those decisions severely damaged the state’s cases and prompted an immediate response from prosecutors, who are appealing the rulings of Indian River County Judges David Morgan and Nicole Menz, as well as that of Martin County Judge Kathleen Roberts, to a panel of three circuit court judges.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Wilson said the appeal is still being prepared and a ruling isn’t expected until later this summer. It was Wilson, the lead prosecutor in the solicitation of prostitution cases, who confirmed last week that State Attorney Bruce Colton had agreed to modify the initial stricter plea offers after the three judges tossed the videos – and at the request of local defense lawyers.
“Frankly, the positioning of the cases has changed,” Wilson said. “The judges have ruled that we can’t use the videos, so, right now, some of the evidence we have isn’t available to us. We’re appealing the rulings, but, in the meantime, we’re offering these individuals a chance to enter a diversion program and move toward closure.
“There are 171 defendants here, and not all of them are going to do the same thing, but I believe a large number of them would’ve taken diversion from Day 1,” Metcalf said. “Most of these men have never been in trouble, never been arrested. I’m sure a lot of them will want to put this behind them.
But Metcalf said some of his clients are determined to fight the charges in court, where the judges’ rulings on the videos last month improved their chances of being acquitted.