AP NEWS

Jury begins deliberations in Bemer sex trafficking case

April 8, 2019

Attorneys for the state and Waterford Speedbowl owner Bruce J. Bemer delivered  closing arguments Monday in Bemer’s  sex trafficking case in Danbury Superior Court.

The six-member jury began deliberating later Monday after Judge Robin Pavia instructed the panel on the laws they will be considering: patronizing a trafficked person and accessory to trafficking. The jury did not reach a verdict and is scheduled to resume its deliberations on Tuesday.

The jury was told initially that Bemer, 65, of Glastonbury, was charged with patronizing seven trafficked persons, but the state withdrew charges related  to three of the people. One didn’t show up to testify as scheduled, a second was in a locked unit at Connecticut Valley Hospital and possibly suicidal and a third gave  testimony inconsistent with his earlier statements. Based on the state’s withdrawal of the three charges, the judge granted a defense motion to dismiss those  counts.

It’s now up to the jury to decide whether the state has proven the other charges against Bemer,  who rejected an offer to resolve his case with a felony conviction and probation, but no prison time.

The state alleges the wealthy owner of Waterford Speedbowl, a propane company and several other businesses, was part of a sex ring in which Robert King of Danbury recruited vulnerable men. The state alleges King kept a tab as he provided the men with shelter, food and drugs, then brought them to Bemer for paid sex to pay off their debt.

Bemer has admitted he paid for sex with men who were supplied by King for 20 to 25 years,  but contends he is guilty only of patronizing a prostitute, a misdemeanor charge that  defense attorney Anthony Spinella argued was not used because the one year statute of limitations ran out.

The state is trying to prove the felony trafficking charges, which prosecutor Sharmese Hodge argued were the correct charges because Bemer knew, or should have known, that the men King was providing had been recruited under the fraudulent assumption that King was their friend and coerced into “debt bondage” to repay their tabs. 

King was a predator, Hodge argued, and the men he found in group homes, homeless shelters and on the street were the prey. The trafficking ring was built on the mentally ill and drug addicted by King and Bemer, she said.

“It benefits Bruce Bemer sexually, and it benefits Robert King financially,” Hodge argued. King often drove the men in groups to service Bemer at his office, a hotel or elsewhere, sending them into Bemer one after another and taking $50 for arranging the encounters, according to testimony.

King, 53, has pleaded guilty to trafficking persons and is being held at the Cheshire Correctional Institution while awaiting sentencing. Though he had agreed to cooperate in exchange for a 4 1/2-year sentence, the prosecutor didn’t call him to the witness stand after receiving information from serial killer William Devin Howell that King said he would lie in exchange for a better deal.

The defense called only one witness, a Department of Correction employee who testified that King is being held in protective custody at the Cheshire prison but would have been brought to court to testify had he received a subpoena.

“The man trafficker, Robert  King, where is he?” Spinella asked during his closing argument. “They (the state) didn’t even believe their own case. They couldn’t even put him on the witness stand to prove their case.”

Spinella pointed out that King has brought the men to another patron, William Trefzger of Westport, who pleaded guilty. Spinella told the jury he wasn’t asking them to like Bemer or agree with what he did.

“Everybody’s got  secrets, and this is one of his,” Spinella said. “He lived a homosexual life and liked to have prostitutes. There’s no force. There’s no coercion. There’s no fraud.”

k.florin@theday.com