Positive Application of Sex Trafficking Laws: A Case Study

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Ex-law clerk sentenced in prostitution case
By Dan Herbeck

A former State Supreme Court official who used his motor home to transport an illegal alien prostitute from Hamburg to Kentucky was sentenced Tuesday by a federal judge to four months of home confinement.

Michael R. Stebick, 61, of Orchard Park, also was put on probation for two years, ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and directed to provide 250 hours of community service by U. S. District Judge William M. Skretny.

Stebick was sentenced in connection with a federal probe into human trafficking activities by a nationwide men’s organization known as the Royal Order of Jesters.

Investigators have learned that, on a number of occasions, organizers of Jesters parties arranged for prostitutes to cross state lines to attend weekend conventions sponsored by the 23,000-member organization.

In Stebick’s case, according to Skretny, the Jesters put a Buffalo prostitute up in a hotel room in Ashland, Ky., where they posted a”$70-an-hour”sign outside her door.

“In my judgment, what you did was irresponsible, [and] it was illegal,”Skretny said.”You have a history with the Jesters, and that history hasn’t been innocent.”

While the judge had some harsh words about Stebick’s conduct, he gave the defendant a break. Federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, called for a sentence of 4 to 10 months’ incarceration.

Under a felony plea deal Stebick took in August, he also agreed to forfeit to the federal government his 2000 Challenger motor home, which he used to transport the prostitute and some club members to the Kentucky Jesters in October 2005.

At the time of the crime, federal prosecutors said, Stebick was the law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills, who took a plea deal in the same case and is awaiting sentencing.

Federal agents learned of the illegal activities of Tills, Stebick and other Jesters while conducting an investigation into prostitution activities at massage parlors in Erie and Niagara counties.

Skretny said he is aware that Stebick is known in the legal community as a caring, compassionate man but said his illegal actions showed no concern for the”pain and dehumanizing shame of the victims of human trafficking.”

Assistant U. S. Attorney Robert C. Moscati said the case is under investigation by the Western New York Human Trafficking Task Force and Alliance. The task force includes members of the FBI, U. S. Border Patrol, the Erie County and Niagara County Sheriff’s Offices and U. S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

Stebick, who was represented by attorneys Joel L. Daniels and Andrew C. LoTempio, apologized for the embarrassment his actions caused his friends and family.

Stebick’s only role in the Kentucky trip was driving the motor home, which he did at the request of Tills, Daniels said.

“He’d never been to that massage parlor,”Daniels said.”He didn’t know the ladies over there . . . He should have known better. We make no excuses for what happened here.”

Skretny noted that Stebick has claimed he was acting at the direction of his boss, Tills, when he agreed to drive the prostitute to Kentucky.

“That’s no excuse,”Skretny said.

The judge also said he was disturbed that Stebick has apologized to his friends and family for his conduct but not to the women who worked as prostitutes for the Jesters. He described Stebick’s apology as”narcissistic.”

In addition to the Kentucky trip, Skretny said, authorities learned about other Jesters trips Stebick took, also involving prostitutes.

“This is [about] more than just you,”Skretny said. “That crime was not victimless.”

Stebick worked as a prosecutor in the Erie County district attorney’s office before becoming Tills’ law clerk in 1995. After Tills retired from his judgeship in 2005, Stebick got a $30,000- a-year job reviewing pistol permits for the state courts. He left that job earlier this year after learning he was under federal investigation.

Daniels said Stebick is”pleased and grateful”that Skretny did not send him to prison, but he denied Stebick did not get off lightly.

“He has a felony conviction, a tarnished reputation, and his license to practice law is at risk,”Daniels said.”And he lost his $30,000-a-year job with the state courts . . . He’s paid a huge price for his conduct.”

Transporting a person across state lines for the purposes of prostitution is a violation of the Mann Act, Moscati said.

Note that the judge (the sitting judge, not “State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills, who took a plea deal in the same case and is awaiting sentencing”) expressed some empathy for the trafficked women.   Here is some additional information:

Two North Tonawanda men who were identified by a prosecutor as minor players in a local massage parlor prostitution operation were sentenced to six months of home confinement Monday by U. S. District Judge William M. Skretny.

Che Ngan Tsui, 47, and Kim Poh Chong, 45, both pleaded guilty to felony charges in connection with the prostitution operation run by Tsui’s wife, Len Wah”Lisa”Chong, 45.

Len Wah Chong, who admitted that she recruited the prostitutes, was sentenced to six years in prison last month and ordered to pay $350,000 restitution to human-trafficking victims and forfeit another $350,000 to the federal government. Kim Poh Chong is her brother.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Robert C. Moscati said the two men helped Chong run her massage parlors in Wheatfield, the Town of Tonawanda, Lockport and Niagara Falls.

In addition to spending six months confined to their homes while wearing electronic ankle monitors, Tsui will be on probation for 18 months and Kim Poh Chong for one year, Skretny ordered.

After an investigation by the Human Trafficking Task Force and Alliance, a series of arrests were made in December 2007. The agencies involved included the FBI, U. S. Border Patrol, the Erie County and Niagara County Sheriff’s Offices and U. S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

Those arrests led to an ongoing investigation into the Royal Order of Jesters, a nationwide men’s organization that hired some of the massage parlor workers to perform as prostitutes at weekend conventions in several cities, authorities said.

Moscati said women were recruited to work in the massage parlors with the promise that the parlors were”licensed”and safe from law enforcement action.

The women typically were paid $60 for sex acts, but Chong took $50, U. S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn said. Flynn added that the women were also charged $25 a day for living expenses.

The $350,000 in restitution will be divided among 10 of the women who worked in the parlors and agreed to become government witnesses in the case, Moscati said. The amount of money that will be given to each woman depends, in part, on how long she worked for Chong, the prosecutor said.

Moscati added that some, and possibly all 10, of the women can apply for permanent residency in the United States under federal human-trafficking laws.

“The human-trafficking statute provides this kind of relief for victims of human trafficking,”Moscati said.

–Ann Bartow

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