Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Charges grow vs. Bedford judge in prostitution case

Updated 3/5 with prosecutors' motion about Jacob's laptop.

Prosecutors just amped up the pressure on Harry Jacob III, the judge caught up in Bedford’s prostitution scandal.

He’s been indicted on five more charges – in addition to the 11 he was hit with in December, including accepting sex as a bribe and promoting prostitution.

The new charges include failure to report a felony and records and evidence tampering. They add to the question of what really happened between the 57-year-old judge and the women who worked for Studio 54 Girls, the alleged brothel in a Bedford office building.

I told the story of the judge and two of the young women in “The Bedford Judge and the Brothel Bust,” online now in the March issue. Though prosecutors charged Jacob with three felony counts of promoting prostitution, a law commonly used against pimps, I didn’t learn of any evidence that Jacob was acting like a pimp in the traditional sense.

Instead, most of the felony charges against Jacob centered around a single incident on April 20, 2012. That day, the original charges suggest, the judge appears to have had some sort of sexual involvement with two women – and resolved speeding and contempt of court charges against one of them by levying a $250 fine.

Jacob is now charged with two more felonies on April 20, 2012: tampering with records -- a Bedford court journal entry -- and tampering with evidence. The second charge is somewhat surprising, since it requires a defendant to know that an investigation was “likely to be instituted.” The investigation of Jacob didn’t start until September 2013.

“It’s two theories about the same act, dealing with the ticket for one of the women working with the brothel,” says Joe Frolik, spokesperson for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor. “He deals with it in the hallway and dockets it -- not in open court.”

In the only count tied to a new incident, Jacob is accused of failing to report a felony on July 1, 2013. That’s long after the previous indictment suggested he stopped soliciting the young women. Frolik says he believes the felony Jacob failed to report is someone else promoting prostitution. July 1, 2013 is the day Jacob looked up the online ad of a Studio 54 Girl on his laptop while hearing cases on the bench, prosecutors claim.

Jacob also faces a tampering with evidence charge dating to Nov. 2-4, 2013. That’s days before investigators seem to have caught him by setting up a recorded phone call between him and one of the women. “At this point, he knows the investigation is underway,” Frolik says. “He’s trying to destroy records that could be potential evidence.” On Nov. 8, the day after the recorded call, Jacob allegedly looked up information about sex addiction and the Ohio law against compelling prostitution.

The judge is also accused of possessing criminal tools -- a computer and cell phone -- which he allegedly used either to promote prostitution or to tamper with records or evidence. And the prosecutors aren't done. They've filed a motion asking Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael Corrigan to order Jacob to reveal the encryption password that protects some material on his laptop.  It may be a close call. Even the prosecutor admits the Supreme Court hasn't decided whether the Bill of Rights allows defendants to keep encrypted material private.

Friends of Jacob told me the charges against him didn’t fit the self-disciplined, honest man they know. Defense attorneys I talked to speculated the judge may have been overcharged. The two indictments portray Jacob differently, as a man who let illicit relationships thoroughly corrupt him. Prosecutors have doubled the number of felony counts against him. This could lead to Cleveland’s most interesting corruption trial since Jimmy Dimora.

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