Retired Lockport police captain to plead guilty in 'Jesters' prostitution case
By Dan Herbeck - News Staff Reporter
Updated: 03/15/08 9:13 AM
A retired Lockport police captain is scheduled to plead guilty next week in federal court in connection with allegations that local members of a fraternal organization transported a prostitute over state lines.
John Trowbridge, 60, is expected to appear with his attorney on Thursday before U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Trowbridge is scheduled to plead guilty to a criminal charge next week, authorities said, but they declined to specify the charge.
Federal agents are investigating Trowbridge, former State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills and Tills’ former law clerk, Michael Stebick, for allegedly taking a local massage parlor worker in a mobile home to an out-of-state meeting of the Royal Order of Jesters.
At that meeting, according to law enforcement officials, the woman performed sexual favors for cash. Authorities said anyone involved in the road trip could face federal prosecution for taking a person over state lines for prostitution.
Members of a human trafficking task force in Buffalo are also investigating other alleged incidents involving prostitutes at Jesters’ events in other cities.
Trowbridge and his attorney, David C. Douglas of Lockport, could not be reached to comment Friday.
Alex Rogers, national business manager for the Jesters, headquartered in Indianapolis, said he was unaware of any illegal activity by Trowbridge or anyone else in the Buffalo Jesters chapter.
If any such road trip did take place, it would not be sanctioned or condoned by the Jesters organization, Rogers said.
“This is very out of character for our organization . . . which has 23,500 members,” Rogers told The Buffalo News. “Individuals do certain things. Look at your governor in New York. We can’t control what individuals do. We can’t put a leash on them.”
FBI and U.S. Border Patrol agents have been investigating whether members of the Buffalo Jesters violated the Mann Act, a federal law that makes it illegal to transport anyone over state lines for prostitution.
James P. Kennedy, chief of criminal prosecutions in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Buffalo, declined to confirm or deny whether Trowbridge plans to enter a guilty plea. He also declined to say whether Trowbridge or the woman is cooperating in the federal probe.
“I can’t have any comment at all,” Kennedy said.
Trowbridge retired from the Lockport Police in late 2002 after 29 years on the job.
“John was very well-respected in the criminal justice system,” said a Niagara County lawyer who knows the retired captain. “He was a good cop, a good guy, not the macho type of cop. This comes as a big surprise.”
The lawyer spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he wanted to offer some words in support for Trowbridge but did not want to be publicly associated with the investigation.
The Jesters are associated with the Masons and the Shriners. The club’s motto is “Mirth is king.” Club members say many prominent men — including two former presidents, Harry S. Truman and Gerald R. Ford — have belonged to the club during its long history.
Jesters say the club’s goal is to “spread the gospel of mirth and merriment.” Authorities said Tills, Stebick and Trowbridge were all members of the club’s Buffalo division, known as Buffalo Court No. 22.
The News previously reported that on March 6 the investigation led Tills to resign from his job as a state court hearing officer, and Stebick from his job as a part-time state court law clerk. The resignations were confirmed by Andrew B. Isenberg, district executive for the Eighth Judicial District of the state court system.
Buffalo defense attorney Terrence M. Connors is representing Tills in connection with the probe, and Stebick is represented by Andrew C. LoTempio and Joel L. Daniels.
Daniels said late Friday that he was surprised to hear that Trowbridge is taking a plea in the case.
Speaking of Stebick, Daniels said: “Mike was one of the best-liked guys among any of the downtown lawyers. He’s a good, solid guy who will go out of his way to help anyone. I’m really sorry to see him in this situation.”
Connors could not be reached on Friday.