Retired New York Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills, 74, has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for a felony charge of transporting prostitutes across state lines (a violation of the Mann Act). He began serving his sentence on October 1, 2009.
Tills’ long fall from grace, from a well-respected jurist known for imposing tough sentences to a federal prisoner, resulted following an investigation into the Royal Order of Jesters, a Masonic group that has 191 chapters and 22,000 members nationwide.
The probe, conducted by the Western New York Human Trafficking Task Force, began in late 2007 after federal agents learned that a judge and a police captain were among the customers of a Niagara County massage parlor that hired illegal immigrants to work as prostitutes.
At sentencing, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny admonished Tills for victimizing the most vulnerable illegal immigrants, “the undocumented women involved in the sex trade.” One woman, Coco, barely spoke English and had been sold into sexual slavery. Tills took her across state lines to work at a Jesters convention in Kentucky.
Further, Tills reportedly engaged in a sexual relationship with a woman who appeared before him in court and recruited her to work as a prostitute at a Jesters convention. Likewise, he recruited prostitutes who appeared before him to provide sexual services at such conventions.
“I will never forgive myself for the possible harm I’ve caused to the victims in this case,” Tills said at his sentencing hearing. “I’m embarrassed, and I feel terrible about the shame I’ve brought to the bench and the bar.” See: United States v. Tills, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NY), Case No. 1:08-cr-00242-WMS.
The federal investigation also resulted in the convictions of two other members of the Royal Order of Jesters – John Trowbridge, a former Lockport police captain, and Michael R. Stebick, Tills’ former law clerk. Trowbridge was sentenced to two years on probation. Stebick received four months of home confinement and was required to forfeit the motor home he used to transport prostitutes across state lines.
A spokesman for the Jesters said only the group’s Buffalo, New York chapter had used prostitutes at organizational gatherings, which was “isolated, inappropriate” and not condoned by the national leadership. Several U.S. presidents, including Truman and Ford, as well as a number of other politicians have been members of the Jesters.
“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 former member Malcolm Herring. “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.”
Additional sources: Buffalo News, www.noonehastodietomorrow.com
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