A former district judge in Cross and St. Francis counties who has admitted fashioning sentences to feed his own prurient interests should be imprisoned for three years and fined $50,000, the U.S. Department of Justice argued ahead of a Wednesday sentencing hearing for Joseph Boeckmann.
But Boeckmann's attorney says he is "an elderly, broken, ailing man" for whom continued home detention would be adequate punishment.
The 72-year-old Wynne resident pleaded guilty in October to wire fraud and witness tampering and is scheduled to be sentenced at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Little Rock courtroom of U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.
Boeckmann has been on home detention since he was indicted in September 2016 on 21 federal charges -- eight counts of wire fraud, two counts of witness tampering, one count of bribery and 10 counts of violating the federal Travel Act. The indictment alleged that over a period of years, he used his position presiding over misdemeanor and traffic offenses to obtain personal services from or sexual contact with nine males, ages 16 to 22, by requiring them to participate in "community service" in return for dismissal of their cases.
The community service consisted of sexual favors or Boeckmann photographing the boys from behind as they bent over to pick up aluminum cans and litter.
In admitting to wire fraud, Boeckmann agreed that his dismissals of the cases defrauded the cities, counties and state of fines, fees and court costs that the government entities otherwise would have collected. In pleading guilty to witness tampering, Boeckmann admitted that in 2015, he tried to persuade an out-of-state boy to retract a statement he had given to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
The commission filed an ethics complaint against Boeckmann but never had to try to remove him from office because he resigned voluntarily in May 2016 and agreed to never seek a judgeship or hold another public service position. He had been a district judge in the six-county 1st Judicial Circuit in east Arkansas since 2009.
The charges to which Boeckmann pleaded guilty are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of between $10,000 and $100,000, though prosecutors agreed at the plea hearing that they wouldn't object to a sentence of between 30 and 37 months, or 2½ to just over three years in prison.
In a sentencing memo filed Feb. 14, trial attorney Peter Halpern of the Justice Department suggested a sentence at the top of the range, calling 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."
Halpern argued that Boeckmann "did this for years. 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. His sentence must reflect the gravity of his criminal conduct."
Baker doesn't have to impose a sentence in line with what has been proposed.
Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig said in a sentencing memo filed Friday that it isn't fair for the government to bring up "allegations from over two decades ago which were obviously investigated but which were not pursued at the time. It is impossible at this juncture, and with Boeckmann's health and memory being what it is, for him to attempt to refute these claims."
He asked Baker to prohibit or disregard testimony that Halpern wants to present about two previous FBI investigations in the mid-1990s, when Boeckmann was a part-time deputy prosecuting attorney in Cross County. Halpern said the investigations "revealed numerous allegations that [Boeckmann] was using his position ... to dismiss charges or drop whole cases in exchange for bogus 'community service' and overtly sexual acts from individuals who the defendant was supposed to be prosecuting."
Halpern said he intends to present testimony that in early 1996, about a year after Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long hired Boeckmann as a deputy, the FBI received a complaint that Boeckmann "was having young boys pose nude in obscene positions so [he] could take photographs of them in exchange for reduced bond" or dropped charges.
Halpern said an FBI agent would testify that during the investigation, agents interviewed at least seven young men who described allowing Boeckmann to photograph them clothed or naked while bending over doing "community service." The prosecutor said the FBI also obtained copies of photographs found in Boeckmann's office showing a young man, sometimes nude, in various poses.
"The similarity between the accounts given by the young men who the FBI interviewed in the previous case and the young men interviewed as part of the instant case are striking and demonstrate the defendant's clear and continuous pattern of abuse dating back at least 20 years," Halpern said.
He argued that the young men identified in the latest investigation suggests "that this is only a small subset of the total number" of young men whose cases Boeckmann dismissed for his own benefit.
The memo further describes each of the seven young men's accounts of their interaction with Boeckmann as a deputy prosecutor. One account indicates that Boeckmann ordered one young man to bend over and touch his toes as part of a "drug test" as Boeckmann stood behind him. Another indicates that Boeckmann wrote a $150 check to refund another young man's bond money after the man allowed Boeckmann to photograph him "to show the judge that you did some community service."
In a third case, according to the memo, Boeckmann made a young man charged with driving while intoxicated ride with him to a field and pull down his pants so the prosecutor could take photographs.
"The U.S. Attorney's office ultimately declined prosecution of these matters with the understanding that [Boeckmann] would resign from his position as a deputy prosecuting attorney, which appears to have been done," Halpern wrote. "Nonetheless, a few years later [Boeckmann] ran for and was elected as a district court judge and undertook the same course of conduct, but from a different vantage point in the courtroom."
Halpern said he intends to present Wynne District Court records from 2014 to show that Boeckmann dismissed at least 66 cases involving males between the ages of 15 and 35 based on their completion of community service.
During a search of Boeckmann's home in September 2015, Halpern said, investigators seized at least 46 printouts and thousands of digital images of young men the former judge is believed to have photographed, most of whom haven't been identified.
Rosenzweig wrote that Boeckmann "has now lost his reputation and carries a great sense of shame, not only for himself but the embarrassment he has brought upon his large family, most of whom still live in Wynne," making an extension of the 17 months he has served on home detention an adequate punishment. But Halpern complained that would be crediting Boeckmann for being crafty enough to avoid detection until he was elderly.
Boeckmann "clearly recognized the unique power that he held over these individuals," Halpern argued. "He recognized it, and he exploited it. The defendant's sentence must serve as a warning to others who may be similarly inclined."
Metro on 02/20/2018
Print Headline: Prosecutor calls ex-judge 'a predator,' urges prison