Former Lockport police captain gets probation in Jesters case
By Dan Herbeck
A remorseful former police captain was sentenced to two years probation today for procuring prostitutes and taking them across state lines for events sponsored by the Royal Order of Jesters.
John Trowbridge, 62, a retired Lockport police captain, fought back tears as he told a federal judge that he now realizes that illegal aliens who worked as prostitutes at the events were "victims."
"The more I thought about it, the more I didn't like it," Trowbridge told U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. "They come here with great expectations ... These people are way too often overlooked. They're victims."
Trowbridge is the second person to be sentenced in connection with an ongoing federal investigation into prostitution activities — some of them involving illegal aliens — at Jesters events in several cities.
National leaders of the Jesters, a fraternal organization that is a division of the Masons, told The Buffalo News last week they were unaware that prostitutes were hired for the events and did not condone it.
Trowbridge and other members of the Jesters Buffalo chapter have been under investigation by the Western New York Human Trafficking Task Force for 18 months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert C. Moscati represented the task force at today's sentencing.
Ronald H. Tills, a retired state judge who also took a plea deal in the case, is scheduled to appear before Skretny on Thursday for a status report on his case.
Tills, Trowbridge and a former court aide to Tills all pleaded guilty to federal violations of the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to commit prostitution crimes.
Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Skretny could have sent Trowbridge to prison for up to six months. The judge said he views the crime as "a very serious matter" but gave Trowbridge probation because the retired police officer has cooperated in the Jesters probe.
"It's not a matter to be taken lightly," Skretny said of the crimes. "It involved the dehumanization of victims of human trafficking ... What you did was a disgrace to you, an insult to your wife and a disgrace to your profession."
Trowbridge was accompanied in court by his attorney, David C. Douglas, and Trowbridge's wife, who dabbed at tears with a handkerchief during the proceedings.
Probe of Jesters’ carousing goes national
Criime Library Supreme Member
Case against 3 men from area wraps up
By Dan Herbeck
To hear the leadership of the Royal Order of Jesters tell it, the illegal activities that ensnared three Buffalo-area members in a federal investigation are isolated events not in keeping with Jesters traditions.
But sources close to the investigation and former Jesters from other parts of the country tell a different story, one of bizarre activities — including routinely hiring prostitutes for gatherings, sex competitions and degrading initiation rites for new members — at many Jesters outings, with off-duty police hired to keep nonmembers away.
“I quit the Jesters more than 20 years ago, and this kind of thing has been going on at least 40 or 50 years,” said Malcolm “Mutt” Herring, 90, of Montgomery, Ala. “I quit because I don’t drink, and I don’t mess around with other women, other than my wife. Going to one of their events was like going to a whorehouse.”
While the case against the three Buffalo-area Jesters is wrapping up, with sentencings expected soon, federal agents have expanded their investigation and are looking into allegations that illegal activities occurred at outings sponsored by more of the Jesters’ 191 chapters. The local men who pleaded guilty in the Buffalo case, and others, have cooperated with the feds, providing information about Jesters events in other cities.
Gary N. Martin, president of the 22,000-member Jesters, says he is disturbed about the allegations. But Martin said that, to his knowledge, such conduct is extremely isolated and never condoned by the organization.
“We believe that this is isolated, inappropriate, indeed illegal conduct by only an extremely small fraction of our membership,” said Martin, a Houston car dealer. “We have, however, taken a number of significant steps to make it abundantly clear to [members] that such behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The Jesters, a 98-year-old, nationwide fraternal group whose past members have included movie stars, judges, prominent businessmen and two presidents, is a tax-exempt organization that admits it is dedicated to one thing: the pursuit of mirth and merriment. Last year, the group put its Buffalo chapter on probation, after investigators from a human trafficking task force learned that Buffalo members took prostitutes—some of them illegal aliens — to Jesters weekend gatherings, known as “books.”
A Jesters spokesman said a chapter in Big Sandy, Ky., also was put on probation because of incidents uncovered in the same federal probe.
Code of secrecy
Retired State Supreme Court Justice Ronald Tills; his former law clerk, Michael R. Stebick of Orchard Park; and retired Lockport police Capt. John Trowbridge all pleaded guilty to transporting prostitutes across state lines. Trowbridge is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in Buffalo’s federal court, and Tills is scheduled for a pre-sentencing conference Thursday.
With rare exceptions, the Jesters’ 22,000 members operate under a strict code of secrecy.
“When I joined, they told me their motto was, ‘What you hear here, what you see here, stays here when you leave here,’ ” said J. L. Edwards, a former member from South Carolina. “Everybody’s told to keep the secret.”
Edwards, a farmer in his 60s, said he belonged to the Jesters for seven years, ending in 1998. Edwards said he quit because he felt guilty about things he saw at the Jesters’ gatherings.
Edwards told The Buffalo News the incidents he witnessed included:
• Prostitutes walking around parties, wearing only panties, soliciting Jesters to meet them later in their hotel rooms.
• “Sex contests” involving prostitutes and Jesters members, performing in front of large groups of Jesters.
• Off-duty cops in uniform, making sure that no non-Jesters entered the rooms where activities were going on.
“You had prominent people at these books — ministers, police chiefs. It’s an elite group, people like Judge Tills,” Edwards said. “A lot of these guys were prominent men in their 60s and 70s. They have beautiful young women with them, and it makes them feel like they’re a young buck again.”
A national Jesters spokesman, Robert Leonard, said the organization is unaware of any such activities. And if they ever did occur, he said, they were not part of the official functions.
The case involving Tills, 74, of Hamburg, sent shock waves through the national Jesters organization.
A former assemblyman and State Supreme Court justice, Tills hastily retired in March 2008 from his $300-a-day job as a hearing officer for the court. His resignation from the part-time post occurred shortly after he became aware that members of the Western New York Human Trafficking Task Force were investigating him and other Jesters.
Tills case a shocker