Friday, May 13, 2016

TOP STORY >> Fines seen doubling in Wynne

Leader executive editor

Wynne’s city coffers are filling up since District Judge Joseph Boeckmann Jr. became the focus of a state investigation last fall over allegations that he was forgiving fines for sexual favors in his Cross County court in east Arkansas.

The Wynne City Council learned this week that in the first four months of this year, the town has collected two-thirds of what was budgeted for income from fines for the whole year. In other words, the city is now collecting twice what it collected while Boeckmann worked as a part-time judge until November, when he stopped hearing cases as the state investigation into alleged sexual abuse of young men got underway.

Apparently most of the fines collected before Boeckmann got caught came from black defendants, women of all ages and older men. But now everyone’s paying fines. Mayor Bob Stacy told us Friday the city had budgeted $185,000 for fines for the whole year and has collected $123,000 so far. At that pace, Wynne could collect $300,000 in fines at year’s end.

That was about the amount the city collected before Boeckmann became judge seven years ago. Fines had been dropping for years.

He was also city attorney and deputy prosecutor for 30 years. Accusations of sexual abuse go back at least that far.

Several lawsuits were filed this week against Boeckmann because of the alleged abuse. The city could also be held liable. One of the lawsuits filed against him alleges sexual abuse in 1985.

Boeckmann may have forgiven up to $1 million in fines during those three decades.

Mike Smith was elected district judge in March and was supposed to take office in January. But that could come sooner as Boeckmann, 70, resigned this week. The governor will appoint a successor to fill out Boeckmann’s term.

Jack McQuary has been named special prosecutor in the case.

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Com-mission found several ethical and possibly criminal violations by the judge.

Charges against him include sending young men to his house, where they would be spanked, photographed nude and made to perform sex acts as a “community service” for the judge, who forgave their fines and kept them out of jail if they happened to be young white men.

The town’s residents had long suspected Boeckmann of abusing his court when young men came before him, usually for traffic violations, nonpayment of fines and other misdemeanor charges.

Some charges were more serious, but Boeckmann would make them go away if the defendants submitted to his perverse sexual desires.

Police called the judge “Let Them Go Joe.” They complained about investigating serious crimes in town only to see defendants get off if they let Boeckmann abuse them, sometimes for years.

Sometimes the judge paid their fines and showered them with gifts, including cars and boats, bought them groceries, paid their utility bills and let them live in his rental homes for free.

In addition, Boeckmann may have shared these young men with others in the legal community. If true, expect disciplinary proceedings against other lawyers and judges.

Not surprisingly, Boeckmann allegedly had child pornography on his home computer, along with photographs of the defendants.

It wasn’t the abuse of young men that caught state investigators’ attention. The judicial discipline commission received a report last fall that Boeckmann tried to protect a woman facing elder abuse charges at a nursing home and home-care business owned by the judge’s family.

Crystal Avellino, the nursing-home employee, was accused of theft of property and elder abuse of two clients of Wynne Elder Care. She is the sister of Anthony Avellino, a longtime lover of Boeckmann’s who was a defendant in the judge’s court.

Boeckmann reduced Crystall Avellino’s bond from $50,000 to being released on her personal recognizance. That’s when the house of cards fell. When investigators showed up to talk to court employees, everyone thought they had come to talk about “the boys.”

“Boeckmann’s method of operation is to gain access to Caucasian male litigants, most of whom range between 18-35 years of age, because of their traffic or criminal citations before Cross County District Court,” ac-cording to a state investigative report issued last fall.

“Boeckmann has allowed certain male litigants to linger after court and receive instructions on where and how these ‘substitutionary sentences’ shall be conducted. Court staff received little or no information regarding when and or how these sentences are completed.”

You can see the full report here, if you have the stomach for it:

Jeff Rosenzweig, Boeckmann’s lawyer, told us his client denies all charges and will fight them in court.

He said the judge’s resignation wasn’t an admission of guilt. His term expires at the end of the year, so it wasn’t worth the stress to fight the charges to stay in office for a few months longer, Rosenzweig said.

“He wasn’t running for re-election,” Rosenzweig said.

And for good reason: His client was facing hundreds of potential charges since the investigation began last year. He would have lost after allegations against him surfaced.

Boeckmann might follow in the footsteps of another crooked judge: Judge Mike Maggio of Conway, who took a $50,000 campaign contribution from a nursing home owner after Maggio reduced to $1 million a $5.2 million wrongful-death judgment against the nursing home.

No allegations of sexual abuse have surfaced against Maggio.