By Jeremy Walsh
State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said prostitution rings on Roosevelt Avenue are damaging the psyches of the women and children in the area with obscene promotional materials.The leaders of these prostitution rings distribute business cards with glossy pictures of naked women, a phone number and, generally, the phrase “free delivery,” Peralta said.Calling out “Chicas, chicas, chicas,” the men stand in areas of high pedestrian traffic, especially 83rd, 90th and 111th streets, Peralta said.The behavior is particularly rampant on evenings and weekends, said Yonel Latellier, Peralta's chief-of-staff and president of the Hispanic Junior Chamber International. The men pass out the cards indiscriminately, often to women or children, he said.Iris Yankelevich, a child therapist who lives in Woodhaven, said she visits many schools in the area and has seen second- and third-graders using the cards as trading cards.”Prostitution directly affects children's emotional and sexual development,” she said.Peralta has introduced legislation that would make promoting prostitution a class-E felony punishable by up to three years in prison.”These individuals get dragged into court, slapped with a fine and let go immediately,” he said.Peralta also called for the resurrection of the Roosevelt Avenue Task Force, a police group set up in 1998 to deal with prostitution and other vices along the same stretch of the crowded thoroughfare.”It worked until the funding stopped,” Peralta said, urging city, state and federal lawmakers to work together to pay for it again.Peralta did not mention Operation Impact, the newer NYPD program that floods high-crime areas with beat cops. Roosevelt Avenue is one of the city's so-called impact zones.A police source said there were no specific statistics on prostitution in the Roosevelt Avenue corridor, but noted that there were seven fewer major index crimes in the zone through March 16 of this year compared with the same period of 2007. Police in the area have been working to combat prostitution, the source said, conducting john operations along Roosevelt Avenue and targeting suspected brothels. On Feb. 11, officers from the 115th Precinct raided a suspected brothel in a basement apartment at 87th Street and 37th Avenue. Deputy Inspector John Lavelle, commander of the precinct, said at a community council meeting that the raid resulted in dozens of arrests.The department also often deals with these through nuisance abatement laws, which allow the city to levy civil fines against the owner.”We're going to hit him where it hurts: the wallet,” said Capt. Christopher Tamola at the community council meeting.But the area has another problem, Peralta said: a reluctance to report crime.”Because it is an immigrant community, there is a hush-hush mentality. Even the johns get robbed, but nobody wants to report it for fear of someone discovering their immigration status,” Latellier said.Arnaldo Salinas, a founding member of the Guardian Angels, also spoke out against prostitution, pledging to send his volunteers to regularly patrol Roosevelt Avenue armed with cameras to photograph johns and the men distributing the cards.”When we see something, we're going to say something,” he said.Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.