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Parties with Prostitutes Land Jester Judge in Jail

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By Caleb Groos on August 11, 2009 1:34 PM

Former New York judge Ronald H. Tills was sentenced to a year and half in jail for transporting a group of prostitutes across state lines in an RV. Amongst those he recruited as prostitutes to participate in debauched parties of the "Royal Order of Jesters" were women who appeared as defendants in his court.

As reported by The Buffalo News, 74 year old Tills is the first to receive jail time following a federal probe into weekend blowouts held by the Royal Order of Jesters. The Jesters are a division of the Shriners. The group's national leadership assured the Buffalo News that hiring prostitutes for their parties is not condoned. Its national spokesman told the paper that this was a practice strictly confined to the Buffalo chapter.

Now, some old-timers in that Buffalo chapter are paying the price under a fairly old-fashioned law -- the Mann Act.

The Mann Act has a colorful and disturbing history. Enacted out of hysterical fear of "white slavery" in 1910, it originally prohibited the transporation of women across state lines "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." The loose "immoral purposes" clause allowed authorities to prosecute a variety of famous figures for simply travelling with their girlfriends across state lines. These included the Act's first prosecution, boxer Jack Johnson, as well as Charlie Chaplin.

In 1986, the Man Act was amended to replace "debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose" with "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense." This tightened up the law, which has since served as the basis for bringing down many organized prostitution rings.

Former judge Tills and his fellow Jesters committed blatant violations of the Mann Act by specifically recruiting prostitutes to work at parties and then driving them to other states.

As a judge, Till was known to be tough in sentencing. As noted by the Buffalo News, one of those he lined up as prostitutes for Jester parties was an undocumented immigrant who appeared in his court (and could barely speak English). His expression of remorse for his crime included regret for the "possible" harm he caused his victims.

As part of his plea agreement, Tills admitted to transporting prostitutes across state lines on six occasions.

Former judge Tills was also a New York Assemblyman and church leader. His cohorts, who have already been sentenced (without jail time) include a former police captain and Till's former law clerk (who previously was a prosecutor).

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