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Judge Resigns, Police Captain to Plead Guilty as FBI Investigates Royal Order of Jesters for Prostitution

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Sandy Frost Newsvine

Judge Resigns, Police Captain to Plead Guilty as FBI Investigates Royal Order of Jesters for Prostitution

Tue Mar 18, 2008

news, fbi, prostitution, shriners, royal-order-of-jesters, trowbridge, tills

Sandy Frost

“The Buffalo News (1) has reported that the FBI is investigating retired New York state Supreme Court justice Ron Tills, retired police captain John Trowbridge and former law clerk Michael Stebick for allegedly transporting a woman, for the purposes of prostitution, to an out-of-state meeting of the Royal Order of Jesters (ROJ). As a result, Tills resigned from his position as a hearing officer. Stebick resigned from his position as a part-time law clerk.

Trowbridge will plead guilty to an unspecified charge in federal court tomorrow, Thursday, March 20.

The Buffalo News stories are here and here.

The Buffalo News has also reported that:

“Law enforcement officials said the woman was allegedly paid to perform sexual favors and that those involved could face criminal charges for transporting her over state lines for the purposes of prostitution…Members of the human trafficking task force in Buffalo are also investigating other alleged incidents involving prostitutes at Jesters’ events in other cities.”

The Royal Order of Jesters is made up of invited-only Shriners who, in turn, must be Master Masons. The ROJ is organized into two non profit corporations, each classified by the IRS as a 501c10 fraternity and a 501c3 charity. The fraternity has approximately 23,500 members who are organized into 191 "courts" for the exempt purpose of "holding annual events which are devoted to fraternalism and spreading the gospel of mirth and good cheer."

The charity was formed to "extend assistance and good cheer to others, and to provide a museum for items and articles of mirth, comedy and laughter." When Alex Rogers, executive director, applied to the Marion County Assessor for a property tax exemption and claimed that the new ROJ headquarters also housed a museum, officials denied the application because they decided that the ROJ failed to meet the state's charitable standards.

After county officials denied Rogers' application for property tax exemption based on claims of being a charity, he appealed the decision and convinced the Indiana Tax Appeals board that the ROJ was a fraternal appendant body of Masonry and the property tax exemption was granted.

The Buffalo News quotes Rogers as saying that "Since each Jester is already a Shriner, the group (Jesters) supports the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children in the United States, Canada and Mexico" and that "Most of our work is charitable in nature."

The Jesters' tax returns, for both the fraternity and charity, fail to list their relationship to the Shriners or the Masons in question 80a, which reads "Is the organization related through common membership, governing bodies, trustees, officers, etc, to any other exempt or non exempt organization?" This question is consistently marked N/A, though Rogers told the Buffalo News that the Jesters are related to the Shriners.

Additionally, the Jesters' tax returns call into question Rogers' claims that their "work is charitable in nature." The most current charitable and fraternal tax returns can be read here and here.

The fraternal tax return fails to list any charitable activities or contributions to the Shriners or any other group

The Royal Order of Jesters revised constitution and bylaws explains the close relationship between the Jesters’ courts and Shrine temples and can be read here.

For example, seven out of twelve Shriners who currently sit on the Shriners Hospitals for Children Board of Trustees are also members of the Royal Order of Jesters. These include current potentate Bernard LeMieux, chairman Ralph Semb, Charles Claypool, Timothy E. Morris, Raoul L. Frevel, Nicholas Thomas and Gene Bracewell.

One of these members of the hospital Board of Governors is named on a subscription list for the Mirth Missives, which is a Jesters only e-mail.

The Mirth Missives disclaimer states :

“Mirth Missives is not for everyone. Particularly in business settings, some of the material may be problematic, possibly leading to sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination charges. To protect you and me, please do not receive Mirth Missives on a computer at your place of employment, or on a computer owned or installed at any fraternal or civic organization site. If you decide to print a copy of Mirth Missives, treat it as you would any other confidential mail and do not leave it lying around for prying eyes.”

The Mirth Missives author described it as containing “stories of interest to Masons, much of which is taken from Masonic publications such as The Scottish Rite Journal, The Northern Light and The York Rite Magazine.”

The author is claiming that the Mirth Missives is copyrighted but this webpage states:

“The material contained herein is solely the responsibility of the author. 'Mirth Missive,' 'Mirthster' and 'Jest Phor Phun' are not registered trademarks or service marks and are not copyrighted by the author.”

When I asked for a copy of the Mirth Missives, I told the author that I got the information from the above linked webpage and he acknowledged that he’d read it. If he truly had copyrights for the Mirth Missives and associated subscription list, which is not marked as copyrighted, he would have had this webpage corrected but, to date, has not.

I have found the Mirth Missives to be pornographic as well as so sexually, racially and religiously offensive, that I will not link to it. Additionally, in one version, the author is attempting to illegally distribute prescription drugs and I did not want some narcotics officer knocking on my door, asking why I linked to something that may be prosceutable?

This subscription list includes not only those under FBI investigation but also ten out of the 19 Jesters called to testify in a federal lawsuit about their first hand knowledge of illegal drugs and minor prostitution that allegedly took place during a Royal Order of Jesters fishing trip to Brazil.

Tills email address, which is easy to figure out as it’s the employee’s first initial then the next seven letters of their last name, is rtills@courts.state.ny.us, so he could have received and read the Mirth Missives in his judicial chambers on work time. This violates government, educational and corporate e-mail policies because as employees receive prohibited e-mails, their employers become liable for creating a hostile work environment, especially if the e-mails constitute sexual harassment or are offensive.

According to “Email, Adult Content, and Employment Law: Reducing Corporate Liability with Filtering and Policy Tools” By Michael R. Overly, Esq.:

“Material that is harassing, embarrassing, sexually explicit, profane, obscene, intimidating, defamatory, or otherwise unlawful or inappropriate, including any comments that would offend someone on the basis of race, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or political beliefs, national origin, or disability, must not be sent by other form of electronic communication, viewed on or downloaded from the Internet or other on-line service, or displayed on or stored in our computer systems. Users encountering or receiving such material must immediately report the incident to their Supervisor. Violations of this Policy may result in disciplinary action, up to and including possible termination, and potential civil and criminal liability.”

If Tills is found guilty of this, he could face disbarment for violating the New York State Bar Association's Code Of Judicial Conduct.

It states:

“The Code of Judicial Conduct is intended to establish standards for ethical conduct of judges…”

Applicable sections include:

•A JUDGE SHALL UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY. Public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is maintained by the adherence of each judge to this responsibility. Conversely, violation of this Code diminishes public confidence in the judiciary and thereby does injury to the system of government under law.

•A JUDGE SHALL AVOID IMPROPRIETY AND THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY IN ALL OF THE JUDGE'S ACTIVITIES. A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability or marital status.

•A JUDGE SHALL PERFORM THE DUTIES OF JUDICIAL OFFICE IMPARTIALLY AND DILIGENTLY. A judge must refrain from speech, gestures or other conduct that could reasonably be perceived as harassment of any kind, including sexual harassment.

•A JUDGE SHALL SO CONDUCT THE JUDGE'S EXTRA-JUDICIAL ACTIVITIES AS TO MINIMIZE THE RISK OF CONFLICT WITH JUDICIAL OBLIGATIONS. Expressions of bias or prejudice by a judge, even outside the judge’s judicial activities, may cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge. Expressions which may do so include jokes or other remarks demeaning individuals on the basis of their age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, marital status or socioeconomic status.

This means that Tills’ fairness and impartiality could be challenged and his decisions as a Supreme Court judge appealed if it is discovered that he received the Mirth Missives regularly. This could also cast doubt on his capacity to act impartially if he viewed pornography or read something considered as sexual harassment prior to hearing a case involving a woman. Or if he read something discriminatory prior to hearing a case involving a protected class. Or if he helped transport girls to a Jesters event prior to hearing a case involving prostitution.

Likewise, attorneys who are Jesters and are found guilty of violating bar association ethics and professional standards could also face disbarment.

Another Jesters publication, the Billiken Royal Board, is a calendar of Jesters functions and lists each event’s coordinator with their contact information.

It is not marked as copyrighted or confidential. Since the Jesters claim to be a 501c10 fraternal non profit or tax exempt organization, they tell the IRS in Part III, “Statement of Program Service Accomplishments “ that their primary exempt purpose is:

“promoting fellowship and fraternalism and extending assistance and good cheer to others.”

One would think that their calendar, or at least each specific Jester court's party, would be listed on their tax returns in Part III, "Statement of Program Service Accomplishments" that also asks for an explanation of:

“their exempt purpose achievements in a clear and concise manner. State the number of clients served, publications issued, etc. Discuss achievements that are not measurable. ”

The Jesters answer that they "held annual events which were devoted to fraternalism and spreading the gospel of mirth and good cheer" with no further explanation of these events.

Additionally, Part VIII, "Relationship of Activities to the Accomplishment of Exempt Purpose" asks the Jesters to:

“Explain how each activity for which income is reported in column (E) of Part VII contributed importantly to the accomplishments of the organization’s exempt purposes.”

None of their partys are listed.

Additionally, statement 9 of their tax returns explains that their events support their exempt purpose of “holding annual events which are devoted to fraternalism and spreading the gospel of mirth and good cheer” without listing specific events.

One would think that the IRS would want more details about the Jesters' events, as the 2005 tax return for the National Court of the Royal Order of Jesters reports that they spent $38,523 on their annual banquet and spent $307,345 on their annual party called "The Book of the Play." Additionally, this same return lists on one of the back pages a "Director's expense" of $31,865, which is not properly listed on page two under item #25, "Compensation of officers, directors, etc."

Their calendar can be seen here, here, here and here.

The Billiken Royal Board lists the Royal Order of Jesters National Court officers as:

•Gene Best, Phoenix Court 17, Royal Director, Editor-in-Chief

•Gary N. Martin, Galveston Court 97, Royal Leading Man

•William Siders, Cincinnati Court 7, Royal Tragedian

•Robert H. Haynes, Los Angeles Court 84, Royal Impresario

•John T. Stafford, Sarasota Court 189, Royal Stage Manager

•S.E. “Scutter” Newton, Las Vegas Court 181, Royal Heavy Man

•Robert R. Armstrong, Rockford Court 69, Royal Property Man

•James M. Lake, P.R.D., Crescent Court 64, Royal Treasurer

•Ray W. Grannis, P.R.D., Lewiston Court 62, Royal Prelate

•Dale Klauss, P.D., Des Moines Court 46, Editor

•Alex Rogers, Indianapolis Court 15, Business Administrator, Assistant Editor, National Court Office

•Richard Koch, Jr., Des Moines Court 46, Publisher

Tills is also listed on the Billiken Bulletin Board as an event coordinator so Jesters can contact him at rtills@courts.state.ny.us about the upcoming Buffalo Court 22 trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, scheduled for April 10-14.

Also listed are events sponsored by the Buffalo court #22, which may have been investigated by the FBI for prostitution. Another Jesters' event involving the Long Beach court #161 names Phil Spellens as coordinator. He was also named as a witness in the federal libel/slander lawsuit who is expected to testify about his first hand knowledge of illegal drugs and minor prostitution alleged to have taken place during a ROJ fishing trip to Brazil.

Like Tills, there are those who receive their Mirth Missives at their government, educational and corporate domain addresses, including state governments, the military, colleges and universities, Masonic and Scottish Rite groups, major pharmaceutical companies, internationally known financial management and investment companies, insurance companies, grocery corporations, major health and beauty product companies, banks and major computer companies.

So is any of this, besides the allegations of interstate prostitution and abuse of government resources, illegal?

According to the US Code, TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 71 > § 1462

Whoever brings into the United States, or any place subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or knowingly uses any express company or other common carrier or interactive computer service (as defined in section 230(e)(2) [1] of the Communications Act of 1934), for carriage in interstate or foreign commerce— (a) any obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy book, pamphlet, picture, motion-picture film, paper, letter, writing, print, or other matter of indecent character; or Whoever knowingly takes or receives, from such express company or other common carrier or interactive computer service (as defined in section 230(e)(2) [1] of the Communications Act of 1934) any matter or thing the carriage or importation of which is herein made unlawful— Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, for the first such offense and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both, for each such offense thereafter.

According to the US Code, TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 71 > § 1466:

(a) Whoever is engaged in the business of selling or transferring obscene matter, who knowingly receives or possesses with intent to distribute any obscene book, magazine, picture, paper, film, videotape, or phonograph or other audio recording, which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or by a fine under this title, or both.

Could the “interactive computer” distribution of the Mirth Missives be considered as “Engaging in the business of transferring obscene matter,” which may violate federal statutes as well as government, educational or corporate e-mail policies?

Could the “interactive computer” distribution of the Royal Billiken Board be considered as “Engaging in the Business of transferring obscene matter,” if it lists Jesters events that have been investigated by the FBI for interstate prostitution?

Are those Jesters receiving these e-mails at the above mentioned domain addresses putting their employers at risk by creating a hostile work environment?

And, finally, if any Jesters are caught deleting these emails, could they be charged with destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice after the investigators found these same emails that are permanently stored on the organization's server?

Only the investigators can know for sure.

(1) Herbeck, D., Bescker, A. (2008, March 9). “Former Judge Tills resigns amid FBI prostitution investigation.” The Buffalo News, pp. 1A.

Herbeck, D. (2008, March 15). “Retired Lockport police captain to plead guilty in ‘Jesters’ prostitution case.” The Buffalo News, pp 1A.

Public Discussion (14)The Good Time CynicUmmmm...tl;dr

But from skimming your article, it looks like you want to be a prosecutor more than a journalist.
0!#1 - Tue Mar 18, 2008 3:46 PM EDTBill-220736Sandy, this article might not cause people to jump out of buildings as many did back in the 20s as a result of the stock market cricis, however, it just might cause many to be fearful of job security, hide under desks, scramble to get evidence destroyed, avoid their peers and above all, be fearful of having to face their wives and family. As one Jester told me once, they will never be able to do anything to us. Our secrets are safeguarded. Let us see what the FEDs will do with the ROJ. HA HA HA. Sandy, you did it again!!
0!#2 - Tue Mar 18, 2008 3:46 PM EDTTazMackMs Frost ...

I asked you to not quote me out of context, yet you did.

I shall not rebut your allegations, but rather ask that you print, for instance, the part of the disclaimer that clearly states on every issue of my jokes list:

"This private e-mail correspondence is not affiliated with or endorsed by any corporation, organization or Internet Service Provider. The material contained herein is solely the responsibility of the author.

This is a private e-mail correspondence and is intended for the addressee only. It is protected communication under the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America and other applicable state and federal laws.

If you do not wish to receive further private e-mail correspondence from me, send me an e-mail stating same.

If any of the jokes or language ever offend you, I apologize. I try to put in a little something for everybody .... some funny, some groaners, some raunchy .... but never anything mean-spirited. I sincerely hope you enjoy them."

So, this joke list is not in anyway affiliated with Jesters, Shrine or Masons.

Next --- please note the headline about the drugs and breaking the law. In 18 point type it reads ....

"It's Against The Law"
then in 12 point italic
"It is against the law for anyone other than a registered pharmacist to dispense medications."

The article goes on to explain that a man has a surplus of blood pressure and diabetes medications following recent heart surgery and asks for his fraternal brothers to help him dispose of these pills. I suppose that old folks at church don't do the same thing..... or that school girls don't share their Mydol. But the article clearly states that there is no desire to break any law.

As for your judgement that the jokes are obscene or racist or discriminatory, we will just have to trust your judgement on that. Jokes, like beauty, are in the eye if the beholder. And every one of the jokes published in my list have come to me from internet joke sources. But then, some people prefer Jay Leno to Jimmy Kimmel. So you be the judge.

Finally, you and newsvine have both been notified that you have posted copyrighted material, to wit, the confidential roster that is provided for members private use and has the required copyright tick and notice on the cover memo and at the end of the roster itself. You have been requested to remove that copyrighted material as it exposes every name on that ;ist to illegal spammers. Should law enforcement, for any reason, want the list, I'll be happy to obligeand. But I do not desire to have spammers use this information. I sincerely hope you comply and, out of sheer decency, help protect these men from spammers.
0!#3 - Wed Mar 19, 2008 1:43 AM EDTFlotsuumProtected copyright material huh? If so, then why when I searched for it in the copyright office didn't i find anything? Try it yourself http://www.copyright.gov/records/. Saying something is copyrighted doesn't make it so. Where in the First Amendment does it say anything about emails? Since when are emails protected by any Amendment to the Constitution? If your going to pitch a hissy fit, maybe you should have your facts straight first. Why are you afraid of spammers? Don't know how to use a spam trap? What a dolt.
1!#3.1 - Wed Mar 19, 2008 11:16 PM EDTSandy FrostLet me get this straight.

You freak out about a story that details Judge Tills’ judicial liability for receiving your offensive and discriminatory Mirth Missives at work.

Your son is a Florida Circuit Judge for Duval County who was charged with violating campaign laws, was reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court and entered into a stipulation agreement with the Judicial Qualifications Commission?

And he’s on the Mirth Missives subscription list, so he’s a Jester too?

And you are 33rd degree treasurer for the Jacksonville Scottish Rite Bodies?

Are you the one who orchestrated the $50 Scottish Rite campaign contribution to your son’s 2002 campaign? It seems that the address for this Scottish Rite campaign contribution is bogus.

And you admit to the illegal distribution of prescription drugs?

Just wondering.

1!#3.2 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 12:56 PM EDTJohn Doe-249928Thanks again, Sandy, for doing such a great job! You are opening many windows and giving us an insight to what these Jesters really are. Don't let those derogative, deceptive and otherwise negative comments discourage you. You probably know very well that if you were really wrong, they would just have a good laugh about your "silliness" and go on with their lives. The fact that you are right on target makes them react so hysterically. So please keep up that great job!
0!#4 - Wed Mar 19, 2008 1:21 PM EDTgreenpaganRoyal Order of Jesters...

What a bunch of clowns.

4!#6 - Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:46 PM EDTLoyal ROJPlease don't judge an entire organization by the actions of a few, as most of us don't judge all journalists and bloggers by the actions of a few that fabricate stories or sources. 99.99% of ROJ members are dedicated Shriners and Masons that dedicate a lot of time to charitable causes in Masonry (ie. Shrine Burn Hospitals, Scottish Rite Dyslexia Centers, Scholarships, etc). It's too bad that some take our mirth a bit too far.
0!#9 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 7:44 AM EDTWidows's SonFlotsuum: Written material doesn't have to be registered with the Copyright Office for a claim of copyright to exist. Everything you write is copyrighted the moment you write it. Even this message. And your message, too. By putting a copyright notice on it, you gain certain rights. By registering it, you gain certain additional rights. The use of copyrighted material by others is allowed under certain conditions.

Loyal ROJ: Better crunch those numbers again, Brother. If there are 23,500 Jesters, 99.99 percent of that would allow for only TWO (2.35, to be exact) to be less than "dedicated Shriners and Masons that dedicate a lot of time to charitable causes in Masonry...." Are you saying there are only two-point-three-five Jesters in the entire world who aren't good guys? If that's true, perhaps the quota has already been surpassed by Bros. Trowbridge, Stebick and Tills.

© 2008 The Widow's Son
1!#10 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 12:45 PM EDTFlotsuumLet me preface this two ways, first Im not trying to argue with you as Im not a copyright lawyer. Second, I have always found your comments to be well thought out and considerate. So, § 411(a) of the Copyright Act states (and Iâ??m not including the entire text for the benefit of brevity); The Copyright Act requires claims to copyright to be registered with the Copyright Office before a lawsuit can be initiated by the copyright owner...

Also, lets assume that you are correct and the mailing list is copyrighted

§ 107 Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

Since Sandy is reporting this as news, Id say it falls under the fair use rules.

§ 106 is Rights of certain authors to attribution and integrity and Im sure Sandy would mind giving attribution where it belongs or reproducing it in its entirety.

Just my opinion.
0!#10.1 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 7:33 PM EDTBill-220736To Flotsuum: Your remarks above concerning Sandy's article are now in print and raised several questions. You opened your mouth so now it is your obligation to answer the questions she asked of you. We expect you to answer those questions ASAP. Stuttering on paper is not acceptable. Just type your answers and click on "Post Comment."
We are awaiting your answers.
0!#12 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 2:08 PM EDTBill-220736CORRECTION. NOT FLOTSUUM BUT TO TAZMACK. Flotsuum, please excuse me. Your remarks above concerning Sandy's article are now in print and raised several questions. You opened your mouth so now it is your obligation to answer the questions she asked of you. We expect you to answer those questions ASAP. Stuttering on paper is not acceptable. Just type your answers and click on "Post Comment."
We are awaiting your answers.
1!#13 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 2:28 PM EDTFlotsuumNo worries, mate.
0!#13.1 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 6:45 PM EDTcheryl-256420I was afraid you didnt get it.
0!#14 - Thu Mar 20, 2008 10:08 PM EDT

Further Reading:

Secrets of the Shriners

Pillars of the Community