For seven years, scores of young men in Arkansas saw their traffic citations and misdemeanor criminal charges dismissed — as long as they agreed to perform “community service.”
The judge overseeing these cases, Joseph Boeckmann, district judge for the First Judicial Circuit of Arkansas, would call each young man up to the bench after a hearing. He would provide each man with his personal telephone number, telling him to call and arrange the “community service.”
Time and time again, the young men would follow suit, “not knowing what truly lay in store,” Peter Halpern, trial attorney for the Department of Justice, wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed in court last week.
As their “community service,” Boeckmann would require the men to collect aluminum cans or litter off the ground. At the same time, he took pictures of them “in embarrassing positions; positions that he found sexually gratifying,” the court document said. He admitted to the scheme last October.
On Wednesday, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “perpetrating a seven-year-long fraud and bribery scheme” for his own personal and sexual benefits, according to a Department of Justice news release. Boeckmann also bribed a witness in an attempt to obstruct the investigation into his scheme, which lasted from at least 2009 to 2015, authorities said.
In his sentencing memo, Halpern called Boeckmann “a predator who used his position as a judge to gain access to vulnerable young men in order to satisfy his own prurient desires.” The judge, Halpern said, used “the men’s powerlessness and poor socioeconomic circumstances to create a personal collection of explicit, exploitative images.”
“His actions impacted dozens if not hundreds of young men, he caused unknown financial losses to various cities and counties, and he tampered with witnesses in an attempt to keep his reprehensible conduct secret,” Halpern wrote.
Boeckmann’s lawyer had asked for home detention for his 71-year-old client, calling him “an elderly, broken, ailing man,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Prosecutors asked for about three years. But the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker, ordered an even tougher sentence — five years.
“He acted corruptly while serving as a judge. When his back was against the wall, he obstructed justice,” Baker said, according to the Associated Press. “That sets his crime apart.”
Baker also ordered Boeckmann to serve three years of supervised release following his prison sentence and pay a fine of $50,000.
Boeckmann’s federal indictment, filed in October 2016, came after a months-long investigation by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disciplinary Commission. Boeckmann resigned from his judicial post in May 2016 after the commission revealed evidence that for years he sexually preyed on men charged with minor crimes.
In October 2017, he pleaded guilty to wire fraud and witness tampering. He admitted to the “community service” scheme, which defrauded the state, counties, cities and courts of money they should have received as fees from the individuals whose cases were dismissed, Department of Justice officials said in a news release.
In addition, Boeckmann admitted to trying to silence at least one witness once he learned he was under investigation; in the fall of 2015, he paid a witness to write a letter recanting truthful information the witness had given to the disciplinary commission.
During a search of Boeckmann’s home, investigators found at least 46 printed photographs and thousands of digital images of young men, according to court documents.
Boeckmann’s sentencing revealed additional details about the scale and scope of the former judge’s abuse. In 2014 alone, for example, he dismissed 66 cases involving men between the ages of 15 and 35 based on their completion of “community service,” according to court documents. Prosecutors believe the number of victims could be in the dozens or hundreds.
Two of those victims testified at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. Kyle Butler said the judge forced him to pose for photos and threatened his life if he didn’t recant details he had given state investigators, according to the AP.
Richard Milliman of Memphis said the judge took photographs of him from behind as he picked up cans for community service. He offered Milliman $300 to pose like Michelangelo’s David sculpture, but Milliman refused, according to the AP.
“I’ve never felt more betrayed by the justice system,” Milliman said in court.
But Boeckmann’s predatory behavior began long before his time as judge, court documents revealed last week. In his sentencing memo, Halpern presented evidence from two previous FBI investigations dating back to the mid-1990s, when Boeckmann was a part-time deputy prosecutor for Cross County. These investigations revealed similar allegations that Boeckmann was dismissing charges in exchange for “community service” and sexual acts.
FBI agents interviewed at least seven young men who said Boeckmann photographed them clothed or naked while bending over and doing “community service.” In one case, Boeckmann ordered a young man charged with driving while intoxicated to accompany him to a field and pull down his pants while Boeckmann took photographs.
“The similarity between the accounts … are striking and demonstrate the defendant’s clear and continuous pattern of abuse dating back at least 20 years,” Halpern wrote in the sentencing memo.
Federal prosecutors decided not to charge Boeckmann after he agreed to give up his post as deputy prosecuting attorney in 1998. Only a few years later, Boeckmann ran for and was elected as district court judge, allowing this abuse to continue.
During sentencing, Boeckmann’s lawyer, Jeff Rosenzweig, said it would not be fair to cite the investigations from the 1990s, since his client’s fading memory would make the claims difficult to dispute, according to the AP.
But in his sentencing memo, Halpern lashed back at arguments over Boeckmann’s age, saying Boeckmann effectively “wants sympathy for the fact that he was able to carry out his scheme for so long.”
“He wants credit for having avoided detection,” Halpern said. “He wants special consideration for some of the very things that make his actions so egregious.”
“No one in his courtroom was treated fairly,” Halpern added. “He eroded the community’s trust in the fair administration of justice.”
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