A Price to Pay

Journal Inquirer
Alex Wood
May 18, 2019

Glastonbury businessman Bruce Bemer, who was convicted of human trafficking crimes in April for paying for sex acts with young men brought to him by an associate, could face major losses next month.

Bemer, 65, could face loss of his freedom for much or all of his remaining life when he is sentenced in Danbury Superior Court.

And he could face the loss of much or all of his wealth in five consolidated civil lawsuits that are scheduled to start jury selection or other pretrial proceedings June 4 in Bridgeport Superior Court.

In the criminal case, a jury convicted Bemer in April of aiding or encouraging the commission of human trafficking and four counts of patronizing a trafficked person. Four men testified at the trial that Bemer paid them for sex after Robert King Jr. of Danbury coerced them to act as prostitutes.

Bemer faces up to 60 years in prison when Judge Robin Pavia sentences him, scheduled for June 6.

Meanwhile, five civil lawsuits against Bemer, with a total of 14 plaintiffs, have been consolidated for trial in Bridgeport Superior Court.

Bemer and 13 of the plaintiffs have agreed to a $25 million prejudgment remedy, meaning that Bemer has set aside assets worth that much for possible payment of judgments or settlements in the cases. But there are indications that he could face an even bigger financial hit.

One plaintiff in a suit filed by Joel T. Faxon, the founding partner of the Faxon Law Group, is seeking an additional $15 million prejudgment remedy just to cover a possible judgment in his favor. The court papers Faxon filed on behalf of that unidentified plaintiff, referred to as Bill Doe, indicate that he was one of the men who testified against Bemer in the criminal case.

In addition, a new lawsuit was filed against Bemer last month by yet another plaintiff.

Some issues decided

Connecticut court decisions preclude a defendant in a civil case from contesting issues that have been decided against him in a criminal case. But for that legal doctrine to apply, the issues have to be identical.

Many questions remain about the extent to which the verdict in the criminal case may affect the civil lawsuits. A major issue is whether the criminal verdicts could affect the cases of any plaintiffs other than the four men whose testimony at the criminal trial led to guilty verdicts against Bemer.

Faxon said that Bemer’s five felony convictions in the criminal case “will be presented at trial” in the civil case.

“The criminal verdict overlaps and supports the trafficking liability issues,” he added.

If Bemer is held responsible for harm to any plaintiff, a civil jury would decide the amount of compensation he would be ordered to pay.

Unless, that is, the parties can settle some or all of the cases out of court.

“Mr. Bemer has shown no interest in a resolution,” said lawyer Gerald S. Sack, who represents three plaintiffs in the civil cases.

Reasons to settle

But there are strong reasons for people on both sides to consider a settlement that would avoid a civil trial.

Bemer faces the obvious risk of a large jury verdict if the cases go to trial. The businesses he stands to lose include the Glastonbury-based Bemer Petroleum Corp., the New England Cycle Center in Hartford, Skylark Airport in East Windsor, and the Waterford Speedbowl.

A trial could cause problems for the plaintiffs as well.

In an affidavit seeking permission to use a false name in court, a plaintiff referred to as Adam Doe wrote that he was in counseling with a social worker.

“She believes that I should have my identity protected or risk serious re-traumatization,” he wrote. “In fact, she is concerned that revealing my identity and having to publicly testify will cause me a serious setback, cause re-traumatization, and pose a danger to my mental and physical well-being.”

Sack alleges in the lawsuits he filed that Bemer “upon information and belief, and an opportunity for further discovery, has been infected with the HIV virus for decades and knowingly engaged in unprotected sexual acts” with Sack’s clients without disclosing the infection to them.

Neither Sack nor Faxon, who represents eight plaintiffs against Bemer, would disclose the HIV status of their clients, citing confidentiality agreements.

Bemer’s HIV status unknown

Bemer’s HIV status also is unknown to the public.

Danbury Superior Court Judge Dan Shaban last year ordered Bemer to undergo HIV testing — and to present medical documentation regarding other sexually transmitted diseases or undergo testing for them. But Bemer, who is appealing the order to the state Supreme Court, has yet to comply.

Bemer’s lawyers, led by Wesley W. Horton, argue in a legal brief that the testing is unnecessary because the sex acts alleged in the criminal case occurred no later than January 2016. Citing a 2012 Vermont Supreme Court decision, they write that “the modem scientific consensus is that testing a defendant for HIV after six months from the last sexual contact would serve no medical purpose.”

A lawsuit filed against Bemer by lawyer Kevin C. Ferry alleges that his three clients, who haven’t been publicly identified, were minors when Bemer began having sexual contact with them.

It says, for example, that one plaintiff, referred to as John Doe, “was between 15 and 16, on or around the years 1993-1994” when Bemer “invited and lured” him to his office at Bemer Petroleum on Commerce Street in Glastonbury and “engaged in a pattern of inappropriate contact and touching.” The suit alleges that this happened six to 12 times over at least three months.

The lawsuit also charges that Bemer had a pattern of “targeting emotionally and mentally weak and ill individuals” and that John Doe “suffered from emotional and/or mental impairments.”

Ferry alleges that another of his clients, Adam Doe, was a minor when he was involved with Bemer and suffered “serious drug addiction and dependency” in addition to having “emotional and/or mental impairments.”

Relationship with serial killer?

Among the most bizarre issues in the civil cases is whether there is any relationship between Bemer and William Devin Howell, a convicted serial killer.

Before Bemer’s criminal trial, Howell came forward with information that King — who has pleaded guilty to human trafficking based on his procuring of young men to sell sex to Bemer and others — had admitted in a jailhouse conversation that he was willing to lie to win leniency.

After that claim was revealed, prosecutor Sharmese Hodge didn’t call King as a witness at Bemer’s criminal trial this spring.

A few months earlier, on Dec. 3, Howell and King had gotten into a “verbal altercation that escalated to a physical altercation” at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, according to Andrius Banevicius, a Correction Department spokesman.

Howell struck King in the face, Banevicius added.

In a recently filed court document, Faxon asked Bemer to admit or deny that Bemer “or individuals operating on his behalf, ordered the beating” of King by Howell.

In a written response filed by his lawyer, Ryan P. Barry, Bemer denied that accusation. Likewise, Banevicius said the Correction Department “has no evidence to support such a claim.”

State police investigated the Dec. 3 beating and charged Howell with third-degree assault and disorderly conduct. Bemer hasn’t been charged in the case.

One problem Bemer will face if the civil cases go to trial is that invoking the constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination can be used against a party in a civil case. That’s the opposite of the rule in criminal cases.

Bemer has invoked his right to silence repeatedly in his written answers to the civil complaints, adding that he reserves the right to file amended answers “at the conclusion of his criminal trial.”