HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (AP) – After reportedly balking, Miss America Lauren Nelson will testify against the men she helped arrest in an undercover sex sting if asked to by prosecutors, the beauty pageant sponsor said Tuesday.

The Miss America Organization said Nelson is “fully cooperating with the law enforcement officials.” Spokeswoman Sharon Pearce said that included the district attorney’s office.

The organization’s statement came on the same day that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota issued his own public statement, one that called on the 20-year-old beauty queen to “meet her civic responsibility and testify as a witness to a crime.”

Nelson, who hails from Lawton, Okla., worked with police in Suffolk County to target would-be Internet sexual predators, taped for an episode of the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.” She posed as a teenager and lured men into chatting online and meeting her at a Bay Shore home, where police and crews were waiting. Eleven men were arrested in the sting.

But the cases appeared to be in jeopardy after prosecutors said representatives of Nelson told them she did not plan to return to Long Island to testify.

Spota said Tuesday that Nelson’s continued participation was “absolutely essential.”

Spota, who earlier in the week called Nelson’s involvement in the sex sting “nothing more than a publicity stunt,” also cautioned about the benefits of celebrities getting involved in crime-fighting.

However, Suffolk County Police Department spokesman Tim Motz said Monday that raising awareness of the potential dangers lurking on the Internet was a top priority for the department.

“We will continue to use any means at our disposal to keep our kids safe from sexual predators and focus the public’s attention on protecting our children,” he said.

Newsday reported in Tuesday editions that Nelson balked at testifying against the men, prompting Spota to instruct prosecutors not to present any more cases to the grand jury until they could determine her involvement.

Spota was adamant that if prosecutors had known of the police department’s plans for an undercover sting, they never would have agreed to it.

“Why would we need Miss America to be contacting a sexual predator?” he asked.

A profile of Nelson as a 14-year-old girl, complete with photographs from when she was a teenager, was created to lure online suspects as part of the undercover sex sting led by the county’s computer crimes unit. The drama was broadcast Saturday on the Fox network.

Attorney Michael Brown, who represents one of the 11 men swept up in the sting, told Newsday that he had the right to cross-examine the beauty queen if she contends that she spoke with his client.

“You’ve now made Miss America a witness,” he said.

AP-ES-05-01-07 1413EDT


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