AP NEWS

State rests its sex trafficking case against Waterford Speedbowl owner

April 4, 2019

Businessman Bruce J. Bemer and Robert King exchanged photos and text messages about the young men King was providing to Bemer for sexual encounters, according to testimony Thursday at Bemer’s sex trafficking trial in Danbury Superior Court.

“Boyfriends? Are you bringing them to the races?” Bemer asked in one message extracted from King’s phone after it was seized during a 2016 search of his Danbury mobile home the FBI and Danbury police.

Alleged victims of the sex trafficking ring that the state says Bemer was part of have testified that King, the leader of the sex ring, would drive groups of young men in a Winnebago to the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, owned by Bemer, to watch the races. The men said they wouldn’t have sexual encounters at the race track but would be driven to one of Bemer’s offices or a hotel, where they would be delivered to Bemer, one by one, for paid sex. They then would give a portion of the money to King for arranging the encounter and because they owed him for drugs he provided.

In another text, King sent Bemer a picture of a potential customer, and Bemer signaled his approval by responding, “mmm,” according to testimony.

Prosecutor Sharmese Hodge rested the state’s case against Bemer on Thursday after eliciting testimony from a fifth alleged victim and from the FBI agent who handled the case. The defense will have an opportunity to call witnesses Monday, and closing arguments are expected to take place Tuesday.

The jury will be charged with deciding whether Bemer, 65, of Glastonbury is guilty of patronizing trafficked persons and if he was an accessory to the trafficking. King has pleaded guilty to trafficking and is in prison awaiting sentencing. He had agreed to cooperate with the state in exchange for a sentence of 4½ years, but the prosecutor said this week that she would not be presenting him to the jury as a witness after receiving information that King told a jailmate he would lie in order to get a better deal. The information came from convicted serial killer William Devin Howell, and the defense contends the charges against Bemer should be dismissed because the state did not disclose King’s alleged statement in a timely manner.

On Thursday, Special Agent Kurt Siuzdak from the FBI’s New Haven bureau, supervisor of the Civil Rights Unit that handles human trafficking cases, testified about the uniqueness of the case involving trafficking of men for sex.

“This type hadn’t been seen in the U.S., except for one other incident,” he said.  

The other case involved men who were taken directly from a group home by the traffickers and forced into service, he said. In the Bemer case, the state alleges King recruited men from group homes, homeless shelters and on the street because they were mentally ill and vulnerable to coercion. King plied them with addictive drugs and coerced them into prostitution in order to repay their drug debt, and Bemer was one of his main customers, according to testimony.

Describing the investigation, Siuzdak testified that authorities could not easily conduct surveillance at King’s mobile home because they would quickly be identified, and that they used a pole camera at the site but were unable to capture photographs from a good angle. Still, he said they saw one young man who looked like a “zombie” in a drugged state, searching for cigarette butts on the ground outside the mobile home.

“When we saw his state, we decided we were going to shut down this operation in short order,” he testified. “If he’d been a minor, we would have shut it own immediately.”

Siuzdak confirmed under cross-examination by defense attorney Anthony Spinella that there had been a federal grand jury investigation of the sex trafficking ring. There was no indictment in the federal case. Siuzdak said that federal sex trafficking laws apply to transactions that take place over state lines, and that didn’t occur in this case. The defense several times has mentioned involvement of a man named Jason from Massachusetts who could not be fully identified or located, but Siuzdak testified that he didn’t handle that part of the investigation.

The 26-year-old alleged victim who testified Thursday was nervous, and like the other four who took the witness stand earlier in the week, embarrassed that as a straight man, he had engaged in sex with men for money. At the time, the man, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, was living in a group home in Danbury. He was hospitalized for his illness often during that time, according to earlier testimony from a court-appointed conservator who handled his personal affairs because a judge determined he was incapable.

He was only smoking marijuana at the time,  the man said, but King introduced him to cocaine and he quickly became addicted. Then King introduced him to Bemer, and he said he did what he had to do to feed his habit.

“I’m a straight man,” he said. “I like females. I was hooked on drugs. I needed more drugs so I wouldn’t get sick.”

Bemer admits to paying for sex the past 20 or 25 years, but others claim he has been preying on young men for much longer, and that some of them have not survived as a result of being traumatized by the experience.  

Attorney Joel Faxon, who is representing nine people in a civil action against Bemer, said three of his clients have died while the case was pending. Faxon has been listening to this week’s trial testimony from a front row bench in the courtroom gallery.

Also watching the case are the parents of Samuel Marino, who say their son was victimized by Bemer and whose death in a car crash resulting from a police chase may have been intentional due to the trauma.

Another court observer and civil complainant says Bemer abused him when he was 15 years old. 

k.florin@theday.com