Adultery is technically still illegal in New York. In one Brooklyn trial, the defense is trying to use it to their advantage.
A former reality TV private investigator is on trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court for allegedly orchestrating and secretly recording a late-night hotel room threesome between a man and two prostitutes, but his defense attorneys argue the real criminal is the man who slept with the sex workers – because he’s an adulterer.
Vincent Parco, the defendant, was hired to do work on a separate case. The wife of the man whom Parco allegedly coerced into sleeping with prostitutes had been sexually abused by a relative as a child. The relative hired Parco to get “embarrassing” video footage of her husband in order to intimidate the family and prevent testimony against him at trial, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
The relative, Samuel Israel, was convicted of sexual abuse in that case and sentenced in 2018 to eight years in prison.
The sex abuse victim and her husband’s names are being withheld for privacy reasons.
In December 2016, on two occasions, Parco, along with a woman he enlisted named Tanya Freudenthaler, induced the sex abuse victim’s husband into showing up at a Sunset Park hotel to have sex with prostitutes, according to the DA.
The man never met or knew of Parco, and only knew Freudenthaler as “Sara Reed” until she was later arrested.
Parco had rented a room at the hotel under his own name. Before the trysts, he and Freudenthaler set up video recording equipment in the room.
During the second incident, video footage was recorded of the man’s sexual encounter with two prostitutes.
The man did not know he was being filmed, according to his testimony.
Under cross-examination, Parco’s defense attorney Lawrence LaBrew focused on the crime he said the witness committed in the hotel room – adultery.
“You know that adultery is a crime, right?” LaBrew asked.
“Now I do,” the witness said.
That crime is key to Parco’s defense.
Along with the promotion of prostitution charge, Parco faces a charge of unlawful surveillance for the video taken of the man having sex with the sex workers.
Under New York State law, unlawful surveillance occurs when someone records or takes photos of someone dressing or undressing for the purpose of amusement, entertainment, or profit or to degrade or abuse the person recorded.
To prove the charge, the recording must take place somewhere the victim has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Parco’s defense attorneys – LaBrew and Peter Gleason – argue that their client did not commit a crime because he has the right to install cameras in his hotel room. They also say that since the man was committing the crime of adultery, he forfeited his reasonable expectation of privacy.
Adultery is technically still a crime in New York, though it is never prosecuted. It is listed under New York State penal law as a Class B misdemeanor.
“When you’re talking about expectation of privacy, if you have an individual who will cheat on his wife, will violate the law, will violate his own religious tenets, will go to sleep with three women that he’s never met before without a condom in a hotel room where he doesn’t know what’s going on, I ask you this, rhetorically: does that sound like a person who’s concerned about privacy?” LaBrew asked reporters outside the courtroom on Thursday.
“There’s no doubt the defendant viciously and horribly violated the expectation of privacy,” said ADA Barnes in her closing argument Monday. “There is nothing in the penal law that says you can commit a crime against a person because they’re cheating on their wife.”
“It’s an interesting theory. I certainly don’t think it holds up as a defense,” said David Badanes, a divorce lawyer in New York. “It’s a crime by the two people there, but that doesn’t mean they give up their right to privacy,” he said.
While witnesses are often taken to task for their immoral conduct – including adultery – former ADA and current defense attorney Michael Farkas said he can’t remember in his 25 years practicing law ever seeing a DA prosecute an adultery charge.
Badanes said he often deals with people who want their spouses prosecuted for adultery, but he tells them it does not happen.
“Even back in the 1970s no one in New York state was getting prosecuted for this by itself,” Badanes said. “Probably nothing has been prosecuted in the last 20 or 25 years.”
Gleason argues it does not matter whether or not DAs prosecute the crime – it’s still on the books.
“It’s not for the court to diminish the fact that a criminal statute is on the books,” Gleason said. “We have to enforce the laws that currently exist.”
Former New York State Assemblymember Richard Brodsky said lawmakers probably have not decriminalized adultery because it has not come up, but that maybe it’s time for the state legislature to consider it.
“As best I can tell no one has ever raised it as an issue. I’ve never heard it discussed before,” said Brodsky, who served 27 years in the Assembly. “It’s certainly something worth thinking about.”
Adultery is illegal in other states besides New York, but that’s slowly changing. As recently as March, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill that decriminalized adultery, according to Fox 13 Salt Lake City.
Parco’s lawyers tried another defense, too, which the judge did not allow them to put on: that the Brooklyn DA is scapegoating Vincent Parco for having the “temerity” to investigate Orthodox Jews, who Parco’s lawyers say have power over the DA’s office as a voting bloc.
“My argument is the Kings County DA is full of a bunch of bullying hypocrites — they have one agenda and one agenda only, and that is to curry favor with the Orthodox community and the judge wouldn’t allow us to put this on as a defense,” Gleason said.
Jury deliberations in Parco’s case begin Wednesday. Outside the courtroom during the trial, someone approached Parco and told him he picked the right lawyers.
“They picked the right defendant,” Parco said.
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