by Radley Balko
Last June, I put up a post about a Mississippi cardiologist named Roger Weiner. Weiner moved to the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1999. I had contacted Weiner because he was involved in a protracted court battle with controversial Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne. You can read about that battle at the link above.
Weiner is an outspoken guy. He not only gave me an on the record interview about Hayne and what he, Weiner, perceived to be Mississippi's corrupt medical investigation system, he has also spoken out against the HMOs he says he came to the state to get away from. He was so disturbed by his experience with Hayne that he successfully ran for Coahoma County Supervisor. He also told me that though he'd never previously touched a gun in his life, after he was elected he felt compelled to keep a shotgun in his home, dryly explaining that, "Not everyone down here is happy about an East Coast Jew getting elected to county office."
In May of this year, Weiner was arrested by five FBI agents at the improbably named Shady Nook gas station. The charge? Violating the federal Mann Act—a century-old law banning the transport of women across state lines for "immoral purposes." Specifically, federal agents had posed as prostitutes on a chat room for a Memphis-based website called sugardaddyforme.com, a site aimed at pairing older wealthy men with young women.
The FBI claims Weiner agreed to pay agents posing as escorts to make the 80-mile trip from Memphis to Clarksdale to have sex with him. My sources in Mississippi told me at the time that unofficial word from the U.S. Attorney's office was that more serious charges against Weiner were imminent. The implication was that he'd be indicted for child pornography, or soliciting sex a minor. But as weeks went by, those charges never came. All the women, or fake women, Weiner is accused of soliciting were of age (one agent posted as a 31-year-old).
Now the solicitation charges themselves are looking pretty weak, too. U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers recently threatened to toss the entire case against Weiner unless U.S. attorneys turned over the cell phone records they had been keeping from Weiner's defense. As it turns out, there was a pretty good reason why the feds were keeping those records to themselves. It came out yesterday at Weiner's hearing. The Mississippi blog NMissCommentor was there:
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."
According to a motion Weiner's lawyer filed in federal court, federal prosecutors left this information out of the affidavit they filed to get a search warrant for Weiner's home. The motion says "the Government knew when it applied for the search warrant that the defendant had already informed the Government agent that he was not interested in a hooker, wanted noting to do with a hooker, and the Government agent assured him that she was not a hooker." If you're going to arrest a man for soliciting prostitutes, it seems like it would be pretty important to include in your affidavit the fact that he specifically told an undercover agent he wasn't interested in a prostitute. Of course, you'd then have no pretext to search his home for the really juicy stuff.
Back to the NMissCommentor:
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)...
...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.
Let me stress here that I have no evidence that the feds' pursuit of Dr. Weiner is in any way related to his outspoken criticism of Steven Hayne and Mississippi's death investigation system. But it sure seems like someone had a reason to . . . well, I'll just defer to Judge Biggers, here:
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 government 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 [U.S. Attorney] Mr. Roberts can explain it."
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...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.”
It sure does. Let's assume for a second that the feds' pursuit of Weiner has nothing to do with his criticism of Hayne, the Coahoma County coroner, the medical establishment in Mississippi, or that it has any political motivation whatsoever. Let's just look at it as a question of priorities. Because that's troubling enough. Hayne and Michael West have been corrupting Mississippi's justice system for 20 years, with little attention from the federal government. Yet the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office have time to devote three agents and a team of prosecutors to invoke a century-old law against sex slavery to entrap a man who was using an Internet dating site to meet women.