The Nebraska Supreme Court did not buy a Lincoln attorney’s argument that as a man, he was unfairly targeted and discriminated against when he was prosecuted for solicitation of a prostitute in 2016.
In a ruling released Friday, the state court upheld the conviction of Vincent Valentino, 70. His lawyer, Robert Creager, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Valentino was arrested in July 2016 during a sting in Lincoln that involved having female officers post ads on Backpage.com. Valentino exchanged text messages with an officer posing as a prostitute, and the two agreed to have her come to his house for an “out-call,” according to court documents. Five other men were picked up for soliciting and four women for engaging in prostitution.
Valentino was charged with one count of solicitation of prostitution, a misdemeanor, and pleaded not guilty.
He applied to participate in a Lancaster County pretrial diversion program, but was denied on the grounds that solicitation is not listed as an eligible offense for diversion. (Neither is prostitution. Eligible misdemeanor offenses include minor in possession of alcohol, disturbing the peace, possession of marijuana and vandalism.)
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Valentino claimed the sting he was arrested under — the National Johns Suppression Initiative — singled out men for arrest and prosecution.
A Lincoln Police Department sergeant testified that prostitution stings often targeted both sex workers and those trying to buy sex, but that he had never encountered a woman trying to solicit a prostitute.
Valentino was ultimately convicted in Lancaster County Court in 2018 and ordered to pay a $500 fine. He appealed to the district court, claiming the Lancaster County attorney and Lincoln police selectively arrested and prosecuted him and denied his application for pretrial diversion due to his gender.
The court affirmed the conviction, saying Valentino hadn’t proved he was intentionally discriminated against. He appealed once again to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
The court said Valentino did not provide evidence that the police or prosecution had chosen not to go after women similarly accused of solicitation or that the prosecution was pursued in bad faith, citing a deputy county attorney who testified that the office would “prosecute who shows up on our doorstep.” The language of the Nebraska statute addressing prostitution and solicitation is gender-neutral, the court noted.
“The record shows that the (prostitution sting) operation was designed to reduce prostitution — a valid motivation — and targeted buyers of prostitution and that it could have resulted in arrests of either men or women as buyers,” the court wrote in its ruling.
Because solicitation is not included as an eligible offense for diversion, the district attorney’s office was within its rights to deny Valentino’s request, the ruling states.