Sunday, August 09, 2009

Former Western New York Judge Receives Sentence

From the Buffalo News:

Ex-Justice Tills given prison term in sex case
Federal judge calls
women real victims

Phrases like “human trafficking” and “sex trade” bring to mind tough, brutal images that are hard to believe about anyone.

When the accused is a well-respected judge, a jurist known for tough sentences, it becomes what his own attorney acknowledged Friday is a long fall from grace.

Ronald H. Tills, 74, a retired State Supreme Court Justice, was sentenced to 18 months in prison Friday, becoming the first person given jail time in connection with the continuing federal probe of the Royal Order of Jesters.

“I will never forgive myself for the possible harm I’ve caused to the victims in this case,” Tills told a packed courtroom. “I’m embarrassed, and I feel terrible about the shame I’ve brought to the bench and the bar.”

In sentencing Tills, U. S. District Judge William M. Skretny referred numerous times to victims in the case and at least twice mentioned one young woman by name.

“Coco is a real victim in this case, and regrettably, she’s not the only one,” the judge said at one point.

Skretny described Coco as an illegal immigrant who barely spoke English and was sold into sexual slavery as a young woman. Coco, he added, was transported by Tills across state lines to serve as a prostitute at a Jesters convention in Kentucky.

The judge admonished Tills for victimizing a member of what he described as the most vulnerable subset of illegal aliens, “the undocumented women involved in the sex trade.”

The judge also chastised Tills for engaging in a sexual relationship with a woman who had appeared before him when he was still a judge and then recruiting her to work as a prostitute at a Jesters convention.

“I view, and I think society views, this as particularly disgraceful,” Skretny said.

He referred to Tills as a “real Jekyll and Hyde” and suggested the former judge and state assemblyman had not shown the level of remorse Skretny would have liked to have seen from him.

Tills pleaded guilty last September to a felony charge of transporting prostitutes across state lines.

He also admitted that, while still serving as a state judge, he recruited prostitutes for a number of Jesters weekend outings, known as “books.”

“He knows what he did was reprehensible,” said Terrence M. Connors, one of Tills’ lawyers. “He knows he’s disgraced that robe.”

Tills’ legal problems began in late 2007 when federal agents found out that a judge and a police captain were among the customers of a Niagara County massage parlor that hired illegal aliens to work as prostitutes.

The massage parlor probe— conducted by the Western New York Human Trafficking Task Force — led to an investigation into the Buffalo Jesters chapter and its use of prostitutes.

In urging the judge to give Tills 18 months, federal prosecutor John Rogowski told the judge his ruling would affect the public’s view of the judiciary.

Rogowski also urged the judge not to be blinded by the emotional aspects of the case and to remember that what Tills did was a serious crime.

Tills will begin his 18-month jail term on Oct. 1 at a federal prison yet to be determined.

Two other Jesters — John Trowbridge, 62, a former Lockport police captain, and Michael Stebick, 61, Tills’ former law clerk — were previously sentenced by Skretny.

Trowbridge was put on probation for two years. Stebick was given four months of home confinement and had to forfeit his motor home, which was used to transport prostitutes over state lines, to the government.

Connors, in seeking leniency from Skretny, stressed that Tills had helped federal agents with information about prostitution activities involving several other Jesters chapters in other cities.

So far, no charges have been filed against anyone outside the Buffalo chapter.

“He’s given them inner workings,” Connors said. “This group of sordid individuals, which has done what it’s done for years, has stopped. They’re out of business.”

In May, a national spokesman for the Jesters told The Buffalo News that the presence of prostitutes at Jesters gatherings is something that only the Buffalo chapter engaged in, adding that such conduct is never condoned by the national leadership.

The all-male organization — which is a division of the Freemasons— has 191 chapters with 22,000 members, mostly in the United States. The fraternal group’s members have included two U. S. presidents, politicians, entertainment figures and prominent businessmen.

Some former Jesters told The News that many Jesters chapters have engaged in wild parties with prostitutes for decades.

Tills, who previously served as a member of the State Assembly, was known by colleagues and defense attorneys as one of the region’s toughest sentencing judges before he retired from his job as a state judge in 2005.

The human trafficking task force includes investigators from the FBI, U. S. Border Patrol, U. S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and the Erie and Niagara County sheriff’s offices. and

Another case that demonstrates traffickers can come from any part of society. This is a case that I feel surprisingly few people in Western New York know about; most people seemed shocked to find out that a judge had been involved in a sex trafficking case right in our community. Shock is a natural reaction to almost any trafficking case, I suppose, but at this point, I think we really need to accept the fact that traffickers and victims can have any background. Human trafficking is defined by the exploitation of the victim and the profit gained by the trafficker; not the personal identity or background of the people involved. The sooner this realization is accepted, the sooner we will be able to help more victims and put away more traffickers.

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