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Editor’s Note: This is not about those faithful Shriners who get up at zero dawn thirty to put on their clown makeup and drive to the hospital to put a smile on the face of burned and crippled children. This is not about those hardworking Shriners who spend their Saturdays building porches or putting on a fish fry or marching proudly in parades. The focus of this investigation has been on non profit transparency, disclosure and accountability and those who abuse their positions of public trust for private gain.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
A September 4, 2008 Department of Justice press release reports that:
“Terrance P. Flynn, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, announced today that RONALD H. TILLS, 73, a former State Supreme Court Judge from Hamburg, New York, pleaded guilty to Information charging him with knowingly transporting a female in interstate commerce with the intent that the female engage in prostitution (Mann Act). The charge carries a maximum penalty of ten (10) years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.”
The Mann Act was born of the United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910. It prohibited white slavery, banned the interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes” and addressed prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking.
On March 9, 2008, The Buffalo News first reported that Judge Tills had resigned after it was learned that the FBI was investigating him, retired police captain John Trowbridge and Tills’ former law clerk, Michael Stebick, for taking prostitutes across state lines to parties held by a nationwide men’s group called the Royal Order of Jesters.
On September 4, 2008, Tills also pleaded guilty and you’re reading about that now. His plea agreement can be read here.
The Royal Order of Jesters is a secret sub-group of the Shriners, best known for their red fezzes, secret handshakes and running a network of 22 hospitals that provide free medical care to burned and crippled children.
Memberships go like this.
A man must first become a Master Mason before he can become a Shriner, who then must be invited to become a member of the Royal Order of Jesters. There are approximately 2 million Masons, 350,000 Shriners and 24,000 Jesters in America.
The IRS has classified both the Shriners and Jesters as non profit organizations. The Shriners exempt purpose is to support their hospitals. The Jesters exempt purpose is to “Hold annual events which were devoted to fraternalism and spreading the gospel of mirth and good cheer.”
Here is the Jester mascot, Billiken.
Here’s what Tills’ plea agreement says.
The parties agree that in or about September, 2001, Tills was the Director of the Buffalo chapter of the Royal Order of Jesters Court #22 and was responsible for arranging for the presence of a number of prostitutes from outside New York State to attend the Jester’s meeting in Dunkirk, New York in order to have sex with the members for money. Tills made several calls to women for this purpose and also gave a list of names and telephone numbers of additional women to Michael Stebick to do the same. Although some of these women were unable to attend due to flight cancellations following the national tragedies on September 11, 2001, other women drove to the Dunkirk meeting by car at Tills’ and Stebick’s invitation, including one from Toronto and one from Minnesota and did engage in various sex acts, including sexual intercourse , with the Jesters in exchange for money.
In other words, after nearly 3,000 died in the horrific suicide attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, these officers of the court didn’t think to cancel their weekend bash. Tills and Stebick were instead more concerned about getting the prostitutes to their meeting because the 9/11 tragedy messed up their transportation plans.
The parties also agree that in or about Spring, 2006, Tills arranged for the transportation of prostitutes from the Buffalo airport to the Jesters’ national meeting then being held in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. The women came from various parts of the United States to the Jesters’ meeting to have sex with the members for money. Tills agreed with representatives of the Jesters’ National Court that members of the Buffalo Court #22 would get the women from the Buffalo airport to the hotel in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, where the Jesters were meeting. Jesters then took the prostitutes from the Buffalo airport to their national meeting in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, where the women engaged in various sex acts, including sexual intercourse, with the Jesters for money.
According to the Jesters 2006 tax return, the national court spent nearly $600,000 on their annual Book of the Play weekend, which may or may not have been this same national meeting. Their 2005 tax return coincides with this same meeting and lists those Officers of the National Court of the Royal Order of Jesters who may have worked with Tills.
They include William Siders, Royal Stage Manager, Robert H. Haynes, Royal Leading Lady, Paul A. Stradman, Royal Heavy Man, John T. Stradtman, Royal Property Man, James M. Lake, P.R.D., Royal Treasurer, Robert C. Davis, Royal Director, Dennis R. Schueler, Royal Leading Man, Taylor E. Best, Royal Tragedian, Gary N. Martin, Royal Impresario, Raymond Grannis, Royal Prelate and Alex Rogers, Executive Director.
Rogers has been quoted as saying the Jesters try to take the "highest caliber Shriners we can get" who distinguish themselves in the community and that they try to keep the “cream of the crop.” Rogers has also said that he had no information about Tills, or whether he still holds a leadership post in the Buffalo Jesters group.
Tills also admitted to and the parties agreed that:
• On or about October 28, 2005, Tills, along with John Trowbridge and Michael Stebick, knowingly transported an illegal alien from New York to Kentucky to engage in prostitution.
• Tills paid this same woman sums of money to engage in sexual acts with him at a massage parlor named Golden Acupressure, located in North Tonawanda, New York.
• During the weekend of October 28 - 30, 2005, Tills knowingly transported, along with Trowbridge and Stebick, a woman from New York to a Jester meeting in Kentucky to engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual activity and be paid for it.
• In or about Fall, 2006, Tills and Trowbridge knowingly transported a different illegal alien from New York to a Jester meeting in Pennsylvania to engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual activity and be paid for it.
• Tills and Trowbridge had engaged in various sexual acts with the same illegal alien at the Golden Acupressure massage parlor and paid her for it.
• In or about Fall, 2006, Tills arranged for a woman from Buffalo to attend a Jester party in Florida to engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual activity and be paid for it.
• Tills and other Jesters flew with the same woman from Buffalo, New York to the Florida Jester meeting.
• In or about October, 2007, Tills arranged for several women from New York, Ohio and Texas to attend a Jester meeting in Brantford, Ontario, Canada to engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual activity and be paid for it.
• Tills arranged for the women to be transported from the Buffalo airport by other Jesters who then transported them to the meeting in Canada to engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual activity and be paid for it.
On Thursday, December 8, 2005, New York Congressman Thomas Reynolds (R - NY) cited Tills’ accomplishments to Congress in honor of his retirement including being:
• A veteran of the United States Army Reserve
• An assistant town attorney and town justice
• A New York state assemblyman
• Chairman of the Assembly’s Select Committee of the Assembly’s Select Committee for Revision of Corporation Law
• Nominated by Governor George E. Pataki and confirmed by the NY Senate to the State Court of Claims, July, 1995
• An acting Supreme Court Justice
• A member of the Lions, Chamber of Commerce, Hamburg Volunteer Fire Company
• Potentate of the Ismailia Shrine Temple
• Director and President of the Shrine Oasis
• Director of the Buffalo Court #22 of the Jesters.
• Proctor of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York
In 2005, Tills was appointed to the Commissioners of Appeals for the same Grand Lodge. According to the Grand Lodge’s 2008 “Be It Known” pronouncement, Tills resigned from this position midterm. Questions to the New York Grand Lodge about Tills’ Masonic status and possible disciplinary actions remain stonewalled.
According to the current potentate of the Ismailia Temple, he signed Tills demit from the Shrine in March, 2008. This means Tills was not expelled and instead was given the option to rejoin at any time in the future as long as he catches up on past dues.
Tills is scheduled to be sentenced on January 12, 2009.
So, how closely related are the Royal Order of Jesters to the Shriners?
The Royal Order of Jesters bylaws state:
• The Annual Meeting of the National Court of the Royal Order of Jesters shall be held on the day preceding the annual meeting of the Imperial Council, A.A.O.N.M.S., at the city chosen for such meeting, or at such time or place chosen and voted by the National Court.
• A subordinate court may be established by the National Court in a jurisdiction where a temple of A.A.O.N.M.S. is located and where a Subordinate Court does not exist upon petition there for by not less than (13) Nobles of the Mystic Shrine all of whom shall be actual residents of and who maintain their domiciles in the jurisdiction of said temple of A.A.O.N.M.S.
• Upon action of the Imperial Council A.A.O.N.M.S. issuing a dispensation for a new temple A.A.O.N.M.S., the National Court may, upon application of the required number of Nobles of the A.A.O.N.M.S. for a new Subordinate Court and the recommendation of the Charters and Dispensations Committee, and the approval of the Royal Director and Royal Impresario, issue a dispensation for a Subordinate Court of Royal Order of Jesters.
• After one year under dispensation and upon recommendation of the Charters and Dispensations Committee, the Royal Director and Royal Impresario shall issue a charter to said Court under dispensation after a Charter for a Shrine Temple has been granted.
• The territorial jurisdiction of a Subordinate Court shall be the same as that provided by the By Laws of the Imperial Council A.A.O.N.M.S. for the Temple of that Order located at or nearest to the City in which the Subordinate Court was granted a charter to hold such Court, as of July 1, 1999.
• The jurisdiction of the Subordinate Court shall be exclusive in the Oasis of the Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S. where the Subordinate Court is located and in the city in which such Subordinate Court was granted a Charter to hold such Subordinate Court, as of July 1, 1999.
• A Member of the Royal Order of Jesters must be in good standing in a Temple of the A.A.O.N.M.S. Termination of membership in his Temple likewise terminates his membership in the Royal Order of Jesters.
• If a Noble is and for at least six (6) months has been an actual resident and has maintained his domicile in the jurisdiction of a Subordinate Court of the Royal Order of Jesters, as defined by Article VII, Section 10, he shall be eligible for election to membership in that Subordinate Court, providing he is in good standing in his own Temple A.A.O.N.M.S.
So, are other Jesters in positions of Shriner leadership?
And they also appear to be in trouble.
Ralph Semb, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, is not only a Jester; he’s a member of the secret Jester group, the SOBIB, which stands for “Society of Brothers in Blood.” There are no copyright marks or any other indications that this "Confidential Membership Directory" is in any way proprietary.
Last year, Semb and fellow Jester and Imperial treasurer Gene Bracewell, were investigated by a committee of Shriner leaders for allegations that:
•Semb and Bracewell violated the Shriners Code of Ethics
•Semb retaliated against the hospitals’ Director of Development, Edgar McGonigal, by firing him over a fundraising contract dispute.
•Semb and Bracewell both used subterfuge to negatively influence McGonigal’s employee evaluations so he could be fired again.
•Semb knowingly executed a fraudulent tax return.
•Bracewell got a free trip from the fundraiser he was lobbying for.
•Controller Willard Fawcett resigned because "improper reimbursement of expenses that did not further the exempt purposes of SHC and contracts that were not in the best interests of SHC and may have involved self-interest on the part of members of the Joint Boards."
•Executive vice president James Full violated employment confidentiality to "in part, avoid a confrontation with Mr. Semb."
The Interim Report revealed how both Semb and Bracewell pushed hard to reinstate contracts with one specific fund-raising company, Vantage Direct Marketing Services. Vantage raised over $46 million between 1999 and 2003 on behalf of SHC and kept $43 million, with only $2.5 million going to the hospitals. In other words, if someone donated $100 during these campaigns, Vantage kept $95 and the hospitals got only $5.
The committee’s interim report can be read
The committee members also described how headquarters personnel worked under the threat of being fired in a culture of fear if they did not bend to the wills of leaders like Semb and Bracewell.
The committee’s presentation was booed down last July during a business meeting at the last Shriner convention and Semb was ceremoniously “re-elected” by those members who failed to review report’s findings.
“Internal Shriner Report Confirms Corruption?” Can be read here.
Additionally, seven of twelve on the Shriners Hospitals for Children Board of Trustees are also Jesters. In addition to Semb and Bracewell, they include W. Brandt Bede M.D., Charles A. Claypool, Raul L. Frevel, Sr., Immediate past Imperial Potentate Bernard J. Lemieux M.D., and Gary Dunwoody.
Gene Bracewell also sits on the Imperial Divan and is the current Imperial Treasurer.
In addition to Bracewell, others on the Imperial Divan who are also Jesters include:
Alan W. Madsen, current Imperial High Priest and Prophet and Director of the Royal Order of Jesters Court #109 in Charlotte, N.C.
Jack Jones, current Imperial Recorder and member of the Royal Order of Jesters.
Jerry Gantt, current Imperial Second Ceremonial Master, chairman emeritus of the Houston Shriners Hospital Board of Governors and past director of Houston Court #136 Royal Order of Jesters.
Other influential Jesters include the head of a law enforcement organization in Louisiana, the vice president of a commercial bank in Maryland, and a judge and regional planner in Florida
One Jester who arranged for prostitutes confessed all after he was caught by his wife. Her interview can be read here.
The long arm of this international human trafficking investigation may also be reaching out to those 19 Jesters called as witnesses in a libel/slander lawsuit between two fishing tour operators. They were expected to testify about their first hand knowledge of sex with minors while on a Jesters’ sanctioned fishing trip to Brazil.
“’Jesters’ To Testify about Illegal Drugs, Child Prostitution?” can be read here.
“Brazilian Fishing Trip Depositions: ‘Masons’ Pictured Having Sex with Teen Prostitutes?” can be read here.
“Child Sex Tourism: Brazilian Teens Testify About Being Lured into Minor Prostitution for American Tourists” can be read here.
And what about this investigation?
It is being conducted by New York Western District's Human Trafficking Task Force and Alliance.
According to a Department of Justice announcement, the task force was created in November, 2006 and "is a collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and non-government service organizations working together to identify, rescue and assist victims of human trafficking, human smuggling and other civil and human rights offenses in the 17 counties of the district, through aggressive investigation, prosecution, training, education and outreach to law enforcement, non government organizations, vulnerable and affected persons and the general public."
These groups include the FBI, Erie County Sheriff's Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, Custom and Border Protection, United States Border Patrol with the assistance of the Niagara County Sherriff's Office and the Tonawanda Police Department. The investigation is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert C. Moscati, who is also in charge of the task force. When asked about the investigation, Moscati said "We will go wherever the evidence leads us."
At the end of the day, these guilty pleas beg the following questions:
• Did Officers of the Royal Order of Jesters hustle the IRS and manipulate the non profit system so they could party with prostitutes at tax payer expense?
• Do the Royal Order of Jesters rely on their influential members to operate and protect an international prostitution syndicate that specializes in human trafficking?
• Do these Shriners AKA Jesters act as if they are above the law because “Shrine law does not include the law of the land” and they are, above all else, sworn to protect the brotherhood?
• Are the Shriners ongoing problems with theft, embezzlement and mismanagement because they are run by a bunch of Jesters?
Only the FBI, the Human Trafficking Task Force and IRS can know for sure.
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