A topless woman, painted on her torso and soliciting tips for photographs in Times Square, was arrested Wednesday night by undercover officers along with her boyfriend on drug and prostitution charges. Two other topless women with painted torsos were attacked by a visitor from North Carolina who accused them of robbing him, the police said.
For weeks, debate has swirled around the seminude women — known to some as desnudas and to the police as “painted ladies” — who have joined the costumed Mickey Mouses and Spider-Men in clamoring for tips in exchange for photographs with tourists in Times Square’s teeming pedestrian plazas.
While police officials have acknowledged that their presence is, in some ways, a sign of the growing safety of Times Square, others have viewed their arrival as a harbinger of creeping lawlessness.
For a short time on Wednesday night, the latter view appeared to have the upper hand.
Around 9 p.m., a fight broke out at Broadway and 44th Street. A businessman from Charlotte, N.C., Mark Walters, accused a topless woman, with whom he had just posed for a photograph, of stealing his wallet, the police said. She denied taking it from him, and he grabbed her hair and threw her to the ground, the police said; a second topless woman intervened and he struck her in the face.
Uniformed officers arrested Mr. Walters, 46, a technology executive with Bank of America, on assault charges. At his arraignment on Thursday in Manhattan Criminal Court, his lawyer, Gurmeet Singh, argued that bail was not appropriate, “just because these scantily clad women are somehow involved.”
He said Mr. Walters was “agitated” about the stolen wallet but that the painted women actually attacked him first. He had streaks of silver body paint on him, Mr. Singh said. The judge set bail at $1,500.
Also around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, two undercover officers struck up a conversation with Destiny Romero, 20, of the Bronx, the police said. The officers were then introduced to her boyfriend, Jason Perez, 22, also of the Bronx, who stood nearby and, during the discussion, offered to sell them cocaine and MDMA pills, the police said.
Shortly before midnight, the police said, Ms. Romero and Mr. Perez met the undercover officers at the Lexington, a hotel on Lexington Avenue near 48th Street where, the police said, they sold them the drugs for $20. In addition, the police said, she offered to perform a sex act.
The pair, who had been arrested in July on charges of assaulting each other on 43rd Street, were arrested on charges of felony drug possession and drug sales. Ms. Romero was also charged with misdemeanor prostitution; Mr. Perez was charged with promoting prostitution, also a misdemeanor, and with possession of marijuana, a violation.
They had not been arraigned by Thursday afternoon.
The practice of soliciting photos in exchange for money is permissible by law in New York City, provided the solicitation is not aggressive. Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, have frowned upon the situation in Times Square, with Mr. de Blasio saying the women’s moneymaking efforts should be regulated. The Police Department announced last week that a unit of about 100 officers would be created to patrol in Times Square.
“They’ve been there all along because of the nature of Times Square,” Stephen Davis, the Police Department’s top spokesman, said of officers, including those who are undercover. “In the last month or so, since the intense focus, obviously we have increased the presence there.”
Alan Feuer contributed reporting.