AP NEWS

Alleged victims whittle away on third day of Bemer human trafficking trial

April 3, 2019

Robert King, an admitted human trafficker who is in prison awaiting sentencing, would drive several men at a time to Bruce Bemer’s Glastonbury office, or perhaps to his motorcycle shop in Hartford or a hotel, according to testimony Wednesday in Danbury Superior Court.

One after another, the men would provide paid sexual services to Bemer, and then give King what a witness at Bemer’s human trafficking trial described as a cash “kickback” for arranging the encounters. King recruited drug-addicted and mentally impaired men, kept a “tab” as he provided them with drugs and housing, then arranged for them to have paid sex with Bemer and others so that they could repay him, according to testimony.

Bemer, 65, of Glastonbury, the wealthy owner of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl and several other businesses, purchased sex from numerous men provided by King for 20 to 25 years, according to testimony. Though he admits to  patronizing prostitutes, which is a misdemeanor offence, Bemer is charged with felony crimes: patronizing trafficked persons and accessory to human trafficking.

Free on a 25 million in cash and other collateral as a prejudgment remedy, should be found liable in separate civil proceedings.

For the past three days, Bemer has arrived at court with a team of attorneys from the Barry, Barall & Spinella law firm, an appeals lawyer just in case he’s needed and several brawny men who appear to serve as drivers and bodyguards. He’s sat quietly with his lawyers, looked impassively at the men who pointed to him from the witness stand, and in the hallway, smiled pleasantly at reporters and others who have been listening to the sordid testimony about his lifestyle.

Two of the alleged victims testified Tuesday, and two more men took the witness stand on Wednesday to describe the desperation that drove them, as heterosexuals, to have sex with men for money. 

A 24-year-old, who said he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and has struggled with drug addiction, testified Wednesday that King contacted him via Facebook after seeing him appear in a WFSB television news report on homelessness during the harsh winter of 2015. The man said he was sleeping on a church floor in Middletown each night and trudging to a soup kitchen each morning, when King drove from Danbury to pick him up. King took him somewhere to buy him heroin, then back to King’s trailer, where the man said he continued to get high and accrue debt.

“I kind of figured he wasn’t going to just let me live there and continue getting high,” the man testified. King made what the man said “was the only suggestion I had available at the time.” King sent the man’s photo to Bemer to see if he was interested, then drove the man to Bemer’s motorcycle shop, where the man said he went to the second floor with Bemer and had sex with him. Bemer paid him $300, some of which he used to repay King. He estimated he had seven to 10 encounters with Bemer.

“It’s very humiliating, something I’m ashamed of,” he testified after providing graphic detail of the encounters. “I just want to get through this, get it over with.”

The man testified that he left King’s house and was living in a sober house in Willimantic but relapsed on drugs in 2016 and reached out to King because he needed money, after which he had additional sexual encounters. Under cross-examination, he admitted that Bemer was not the only person he had sex with and that he didn’t go to the police after he “escaped.”

“Did Mr. King put a gun to your head and make you go see Bruce Bemer?” defense attorney Anthony Spinella asked. “No,” the man responded.

Prosecutor Sharmese Hodge initially charged Bemer with seven counts of patronizing trafficked persons, but the number of alleged victims the jury will consider has been whittled down during this week’s trial in Judge Robin Pavia’s courtroom in Danbury. One of the men is unable to testify because he is severely mentally ill, and is confined to a high security unit at Connecticut Valley Hospital, according to testimony. He attempted to hang himself after a discussion about testifying, according to the court-appointed conservator, Justin Lewis of Bethel.

Hodge decided against calling another man when he failed to show up as scheduled on Tuesday, and contacted the defense later in the day to say that some of the witnesses were not telling the whole truth, according to the prosecutor. Hodge said she is going forward with the trial and the defense could subpoena the man to testify if it chooses. Another man failed to show up on Wednesday but is expected to testify Thursday.

The fourth man to testify about his sexual encounters was different from the first three. A 47-year-old in a jean jacket with long brown hair, he described King as a close friend and said he had paid sex with Bemer for about 15 years. The man shrugged several times and cursed as the prosecutor coaxed from him the details of the encounters.

“It’s pretty cut and dry,” he said. “It’s having paid sex. It’s doing things you wouldn’t want to do for money.”

He said the list of men that King would drive to see Bemer is “kind of endless,” then estimated it was about 50. He provided several statements that were inconsistent with previous statements, and under cross-examination said he had never been forced to have sex with Bemer. Finishing his testimony, he said, “Can I get the hell out of here?” and hurried off the witness stand.

As he was leaving, a man who had accompanied him to court walked from the back of the courtroom toward Bemer’s seat at the defense table. A member of Bemer’s entourage stood up to block him, and another bodyguard followed him out of the courtroom.

The prosecutor said after court adjourned that she would not be putting his testimony to the jury. The prosecutor also has said she would not be calling King to testify, since it has been revealed that he told jailmates he would lie in order to get a better deal. He agreed to cooperate with the state in exchange for a 4½-year prison sentence followed by 35 years in prison, according to the Hartford Courant. It is unclear now what he will face at sentencing.

k.florin@theday.com