Arkansas Judge Charged with Trading Leniency for Sexual Favors
Federal authorities have indicted an Arkansas judge on charges of – among other things – trading sexual favors for leniency in sentencing.
Former Cross County District Court Judge Joseph Boeckmann, Jr. was indicted in October 2016 by federal prosecutors, following investigations conducted by the FBI and the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission (JDDC). In the face of those investigations, the judge had resigned in May 2016.
According to the indictment, Boeckmann abused his position in order to “obtain personal services, sexual contact, and the opportunity to view and to photograph in compromising positions persons who appeared before him in traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases in exchange for dismissing the cases.”
Such “compromising positions” included situations where the judge would paddle the buttocks of young men, then photograph the results. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.35].
The indictment included multiple counts of wire fraud, witness tampering and bribery, spanning a nearly 30-year period in which prosecutors said Boeckmann abused his authority as both a municipal prosecutor and judge in order to gratify his own sexual desires.
Some of the more substantial charges against Boeckmann – witness tampering and wire fraud – carry potential 20-year sentences and up to $250,000 in fines.
With respect to the witness tampering allegations, the indictment described interactions with at least two witnesses in which a person, allegedly acting on behalf of the judge, threatened to make a witness “disappear” or otherwise made threats for the purpose of curtailing witness cooperation with investigators.
During his October 2016 arraignment, Boeckmann, 70, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors argued that given the judge’s history of alleged witness tampering, he should be held without bond to await trial in federal custody. While the federal district court initially agreed and ordered Boeckmann to be detained, that decision was later reversed and he was released to the custody of his family.
Boeckmann, a former prosecutor in Wynn, Arkansas, had served as a judge since January 1, 2009. His troubles began when the JDDC launched an investigation into allegations of impropriety that involved claims he had a longstanding personal relationship with a young man named Anthony Avellino.
Boeckmann previously had been admonished on March 18, 2011 for conduct involving members of the Avellino family. Anthony Avellino was his former client and employee.
The federal indictment against Boeckmann cited an individual, identified only as “A.A.,” who maintained a long-term intimate relationship with the judge and had been responsible for soliciting sexual favors from other male defendants in lieu of fines. “A.A.” was also identified in the indictment to have been a former client of Boeckmann. The indictment claimed that Boeckmann would loan out “A.A.” to friends as a way for “A.A.” to pay off his debts.
In the previous disciplinary proceeding, Boeckmann had “evaded reporting this relationship.” Despite the admonishment, the judge presided over cases involving Avellino, his sister Crystal and another Avellino family member. Crystal is the mother of Boeckmann’s niece.
The more recent JDDC complaint accused Boeckmann of reducing a $50,000 bond for Crystal Avellino in a criminal case involving three felony counts of theft of property and three felony counts of abuse of endangered or impaired persons.
According to the complaint, investigators making inquiries into the alleged impropriety interviewed witnesses who refused to provide information without first consulting with Boeckmann. Further, the JDDC alleged the judge took retaliatory action against witnesses who cooperated with the investigators, and had presided over two cases involving his nephew despite having a conflict of interest.
“Boeckmann engages in the courtroom practice of awarding community service to certain litigants based on gender,” the complaint added. “These ‘substitutory sentences’ are offered by Boeckmann to male litigants who may be able to perform community service type work at Boeckmann’s home or perform the work and report to Boeckmann at his home, pursuant to Boeckmann’s desires.”
The judge’s preferred demographic for such litigants, according to the complaint, were Caucasian males, ages 18-35. The “community service work” would consist of picking up cans alongside roads or at Boeckmann’s home. When at his home, “Boeckmann would photograph the buttocks of the men as they were bending to retrieve the garbage.” The photographs would then be kept at Boeckmann’s home for “his own personal use.”
The JDDC complaint also alleged that Boeckmann maintained a collection of child pornography on his personal computer.
One litigant lived with Judge Boeckmann for five years and was paid in a “multitude of ways for his ‘service.’” The complaint further stated that female or minority litigants would receive harsher sentences than male litigants, and that Boeckmann regularly cursed at such litigants or courtroom staff.
After Boeckmann resigned from the bench in May 2016 and agreed to never again serve as a judge in Arkansas, the JDDC’s complaint was dismissed. See: In re District Court Judge O. Joseph Boeckmann, Jr., Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission, Case No. 14-310,312,313,314.
“[Boeckmann] systematically used his authority and the trust of the state of Arkansas ... to prey upon the people he knew would be less credible, people who were in danger of losing their houses, their jobs and their freedom. He is a predator,” JDDC Executive Director David Sachar said in a June 2016 statement provided to the Associated Press.
The federal criminal charges against the former judge remain pending.
Sources: www.arktimes.com, www.arkansasmatters.com, Associated Press