This is a report on the hearing in U.S. v. Weiner, before Judge Biggers this morning in the U.S. District Court here in Oxford.
I could also title this post: “Our Tax Dollars At Work.”
For the uninitiated, I’m going to remind folks that the Mann Act is a federal statute originally designed to outlaw “white slavery”– pimps and the like transporting women across state line for prostitution. While that was the original design, it was used a fair amount to prosecute folks who for various reasons fell into disfavor with the feds. Two famous targets were the heavyweight champion Jack Johnson (original subject of the phrase “Great White Hope”) and rock and roller Chuck Berry. Add in Charlie Chaplin and Frank Lloyd Wright.
The act’s language:
Whoever knowingly transports any individual in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
What was on board tomorrow were a series of motions in the Mann Act case against Dr. Weiner; the argument primarily concerned a motion to dismiss, in which the defense was saying that there was no federal jurisdiction because the things required relating to interstate commerce were not alleged to have occurred.
What happened here was that the F.B.I. had a “tip” that Dr. Weiner was somehow involved in child pornography on the site sugardaddy.com. So they checked it out and discovered, nope, no child pornography there. Case closed? Nope, the F.B.I. then decided to run in some fake “sugarbabies”– agents masquerading as escorts– to try to lure Weiner into agreeing to meet them. Some of the time, one of the agents playing “escort” was a guy!
Just to be clear: Dr. Weiner never met one of these “women.” Dr. Weiner never paid one of these “women” a dime. Dr. Weiner even told the first would be escort, Ginger (well, the agent or agents masquerading as Ginger), that there was “a difference between a sugar baby and a hooker, and I’m not interested in a hooker.” (This led the F.B.I. to run in a second fake sugar baby, Mary). And, because masquerading Mary was in Mississippi during all the conversations with Dr. Weiner, there was no chance of her crossing a state line, the very essence of a Mann Act violation! (The U.S. Attorney argues that, well, he meant for her to cross a state line, because she said she was in Memphis).
Well, I guess to be completely comparable, that would be Mary Ann. In any event, it gets even weirder. Mary emailed the doctor that she was in Memphis on business, and would like to come down to see him. He said nope, I’m on call and too busy. She then asked how’s about tomorrow lunch. He said don’t bother to come all the way just for me. She then ventured– oh, I’ve got to drive back home from Memphis to Mobile, and can just pass through Clarksdale en route. He said well all right, she got off the phone, and some brighter prosecution-side type thought–
–wait a minute, if she’s “going to drive home” and that’s why she’s “crossing state lines,” where’s the Mann Act violation!?
So she calls back to suggest, er, um, I’m not really going to Mobile at all, just coming to see you. Shortly thereafter, five F.B.I. agents arrested Dr. Weiner at the Shady Nook north of Clarksdale.
I’ll post more about the hearing later, but for now I want everyone to contemplate that:
- There was no chance of any woman being transported across state line for immoral purposes, particularly given that one of the women was (at least some of the time) a guy.
- There wasn’t even a transport across state lines given that “Mary” was always in Mississippi.
- While Dr. Weiner was cruising the SugarDaddy site, it was the agents who went aggressively hunting him, not vice versa.
Judge Biggers asked some pointed questions: Why are they prosecuting him? Judge Biggers also said, “Something is going on here that is not on the surface that they would bring in 3 governmetn agents in contact with him over and over again. When he didn’t express interest, they bring in another one. Something is going on that is not evident. Perhaps Mr. Roberts can explain it.” (While prosecutor Paul Roberts gave some history, he didn’t really explain).
Other comments from the bench: “You’ve come a long way from the purpose of this statute in the bringing of this charge.” “It took five F.B.I. agents three to arrest him?” (This drew a response from the prosecutor hemming and hawing about not being able to assume things just because the arrest involves a doctor and not second guessing the agents about safety). And: “This case seems like overload.”
Finally, I’ve a song for the male agent who masqueraded as Ginger.