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
“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 [email protected], 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.
“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 [email protected] 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)  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)  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.