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Wedelstedt: “Justice” In Dallas
By: Mark Kernes (Courtesy of avn.com)
Dallas, Texas – The drive from the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is not without its humorous moments. One passes under the President George Bush Turnpike that runs through Irving, Texas (isn’t it common form for a president to be dead before naming structures after them?); past the VCA Metroplex Animal Hospital; the Hasty Liquors store (because, apparently, sometimes you really need a drink fast); a large, ramshackle structure of girders and burnt walls that seemed to frame a small nightclub, Baby Doe’s; and a billboard reading, in large letters, "Open To Experimentation?" (They’re not talking about sex – it’s a challenge to beef-loving Texans: Below, in smaller type, is "www.TheOtherWhiteMeat.com.")
Downtown Dallas is just odd these days. The Dallas Grand Hotel, which from its facade seems a relic of the ’70s, is vacant, its glass storefronts soaped and taped, with remnants of furniture scattered among torn-up carpets and moveable walls. The old Dallas High School, a massive six- or seven-storey structure at least 60 years old, is completely boarded up, and besides hotels, there appear to be few residences in downtown.
Sounds like just the place to sentence an old adult businessman from Denver.
The Earle Cabell Federal Building is 16 stories high, and U.S. District Court Judge Ed (not Edward) Kinkeade’s courtroom is on the top floor. Judge Kinkeade is an affable sort of fellow, chatting with the attorneys he knows that appear before him about their wives, their kids – and sports; he’s a big supporter of one of the local basketball teams, the name of which those lacking the sports gene (as is this author) would not remember.
"All rise," intones the court clerk. "This court of the United States District Court for the Northern District is now in session; the Honorable Ed Kinkeade presiding. Let us pray. God bless the United States and this honorable court."
The sentencing of Goalie Entertainment Holdings owner Edward Wedelstedt is third on the day’s docket. First comes a plea from a young alleged bank robber – "Not guilty, Your Honor" – and after, the sentencing of a late teen/20-something found guilty of selling extasy and coke, and stupid enough to smoke weed while his presentence report (PSR) was being prepared, which of course included the obligatory drug tests.
The kid has brought several character witnesses – a step-sister, a college girlfriend and even his attorney’s son, also a lawyer, who flew in from L.A. for the occasion. The judge listens politely as each describes how the kid "just isn’t that type of person who sells drugs" but how he started hanging out with "the wrong crowd" and, well, what can you expect? But now, of course, he’s back on the straight and narrow, after his one and only excursion into the field of happiness retailing.
The judge asks few questions of the witnesses, reviews the recommendations of the U.S. Attorney’s office, the defense attorney and the PSR, and decides on a 5-year probationary period – a real gift, since the maximum sentence could be 20 years in federal prison. The kid also must enter a drug treatment program.
But what’s most interesting are Judge Kinkeade’s comments after he’s delivered his sentence.
"Understand this: This is your only shot," the judge tells the (white, middle-class) defendant. "You’re a drug dealer, that’s what you are … The reason I didn’t ask you more [questions] is, I didn’t want to hear any more lies."
The judge also ordered the kid to visit a federal penitentiary, "to see where you could end up," and ordered his attorney to report back in six months on his client’s progress – or lack thereof.
Then it’s Wedelstedt’s turn. Entering the litigation area are Edward Wedelstedt, owner of Denver-based Goalie Entertainment, his attorneys Henry ("Hank") Asbill, Barry Boss and Gary Sims, all from D.C., plus co-defendant Art Boten, of Des Moines, Iowa, and his attorney, Ken Shaffer, a Texan – turning courtroom 1625 into a veritable American melting pot.
Last November, Wedelstedt pled guilty to two charges from the original 23-count federal indictment – "interstate transportation of obscene material for purpose of sale or distribution" and "conspiracy" – in exchange for which, all charges would be dropped against Wedelstedt’s wife Vivian and Goalie. That same month, Boten pled guilty to making false statements on his tax return, also as part of a plea agreement.
That agreement was made under Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 11, Sec. C(1)(c), under which, as Asbill described it, "the parties recommend a specific sentence to the judge, and the judge can either take the deal and implement the recommendations or refuse to take the deal, but if he does accept the deal, he has to abide by the recommendations that the parties agreed upon."
Asbill made a point of mentioning how cooperative U.S. Attorney Linda Groves had been during the course of the parties’ negotiations, and neither she nor the other attorneys on her prosecution team, Steve Grocki and John Della Garza, both of whom flew in from the U.S. Department of Justice’s obscenity unit for the hearing, voiced any objections to the agreement.
"After we had reached an agreement, after extensive battling and negotiation, they lived up to it in its entirety," Asbill noted.
Much of what went on during the 90-minute hearing, which began at 9:30 a.m. on March 2, was pro forma, having been discussed and the terms hammered out before the parties even entered the courtroom. The one "wild card" was whether Judge Kinkeade would accept the plea, which called for a prison sentence two months shorter than the 15 months that the now-voluntary federal sentencing guidelines specified.
However, as one of the attorneys in the audience commented during the judge’s questioning of the drug defendant, "If he gives him [the drug dealer] probation, we’re in."
Asbill had filed objections to five paragraphs in the pre-sentence report, most of which, from the courtroom discussion, seemed to deal with how to group the various counts in the indictment for purposes of sentencing. After making sure that the government agreed, the judge struck those sections of the report.
When it came to discussing Wedelstedt’s actual sentence, Judge Kinkeade began by saying, "Booker is not here," referring to Freddie J. Booker, whose lawsuit against Washington state led to the elimination of mandatory federal sentencing guidelines.
"I like using 11- C(1)(c)," he said. "I’m glad to see the government doing it, Miss Groves," but added, "I like the guidelines because they’re a great tool, let me know what the rest of the country is doing."
A good deal of the following discussion involved Wedelstedt’s forfeiture of his owned and leased properties in Abilene, Amarillo and Merkel, Texas, the purpose of which was essentially two-fold: To remove all of Wedelstedt’s/Goalie’s operations from Texas – apparently one of the government’s primary objectives in the litigation – but also to create a fund from which to pay an agreed-upon $325,000 forfeiture, which would simultaneously settle all claims that the IRS might have on Goalie’s Texas holdings. The mechanics of the transfer of the funds, however, had to follow a certain procedure, and everyone present wanted to make sure that no glitches in that procedure would occur.
When it came time to present character testimony, Gary Sims noted that he had represented Wedelstedt for 12 years, and said, "Eddie’s a good man," and described him as "a constant and unwavering person who’s committed to the unfortunate." Sims noted several of Wedelstedt’s charitable contributions, including the Eddie’s Kids Foundation, a $500,000 donation to a treatment program for abused children, and the funding of a local program where gang members were rewarded for turning in their firearms.
Another character witness was Michael Teilmann, a former army officer who currently runs USO activities for returning servicemen and women at Los Angeles International Airport. Gen. Teilmann described parties for service people and their families that Wedelstedt had paid for entirely "two or three times."
Asbill himself was about to present character testimony of his own, but just as he began, Judge Kinkeade cut him off, saying "There’s really only one aspect that troubles me," and called all of the attorneys to his bench for a sidebar discussion off the record. After that 10-minute interruption, Asbill continued with his remarks, noting that Wedelstedt’s friends and employees had described him as "the most generous, caring person they could ever want to meet."
"This man genuinely cares about other people," Asbill stated.
Asbill also took a few moments to compliment the government’s attorneys, particularly Linda Groves’ handling of the negotiations that led to the final plea agreement.
"I’m delighted to report that [Groves’] commitments have been honored to the fullest," Asbill said, and Wedelstedt later added, "This case went on for many years, but when this lady [Groves] and this gentleman [Grocki] got involved, it really started to move."
In the end, Judge Kinkeade did follow the sentencing agreement worked out between the parties. Wedelstedt was sentenced to 13 months in prison, and the judge agreed to recommend to the federal Bureau of Prisons that that sentence be served at the Englewood Federal Prison Camp near Littleton, Colorado, fairly close to Wedelstedt’s family home in Denver. He also agreed to forfeit "up to" $325,000; to spend one year on supervised probation after his release from prison, and to perform 120 hours of community service during that probationary period. (It is unclear whether the many hours Wedelstedt devotes yearly to his Eddie’s Kids charity will count toward that service.) The judge also dismissed all other charges against Wedelstedt, his wife and Goalie in the indictment "with prejudice," meaning that they would not be able to be refiled at any later date.
Wedelstedt will self-surrender to U.S. Marshals, but at the hearing, it was unclear on what date that would occur. A date of April 3 was mentioned, but both parties agreed that that would be extended, though the final date would have to be worked out with the Bureau of Prisons.
"I’m not sure the Bureau of Prisons can effect a date within that time frame [April 3]," Asbill later said, "and there’s some other things that Eddie needs to accomplish personally before that date, and the judge seemed to be open to extending that date if we need to."
Finally, the government agreed to lift restraints on Wedelstedt’s personal jet and some other assets.
When Boten’s turn came, Judge Kinkeade sentenced him to two years’ probation, levied a $2,000 fine, ordered Boten to do 100 hours of community service, which the judge described as an "appropriate punishment," and to cooperate with IRS officials to determine Boten’s outstanding tax liabilities. Both defendants were ordered to submit DNA samples for government databases, but upon Asbill’s motion, neither would be required to submit to drug tests during their probationary periods.
After delivering the sentences, however, Judge Kinkeade went off the official record to "offer advice" to the defendants.
Addressing Wedelstedt, Judge Kinkeade noted that at 64, Wedelstedt still had many good years in front of him, and urged him to "do the right thing."
"You’ve done about half-right," the judge said, referring to Wedelstedt’s Eddie’s Kids Foundation. "I want you to do the right thing for the right reasons… When you’re home, sitting in front of the fireplace, you can’t feel great about [your work] … You need to do something else with your life.
The judge advised Wedelstedt to read the biblical story of Zachias (ph.), a tax collector who had reformed, noting that he [the judge] was going to follow the Eddie’s Kids website, and "I don’t want to see any smut on there."
The judge admitted that he had looked at several of the videos at issue in the case — 1 In The Pink, 1 In The Stink 5 (Red Light District), American Bukkake 7 and 8 (JM Productions); Cumshots 4 (Anabolic Video), Gangbang Angels 11 (Elegant Angel Productions) and Tits and Ass 8 (Devil’s Films) were the ones charged – and that he couldn’t help but think, as he was watching, "That’s somebody’s father. That’s somebody’s sister." The judge also noted that years ago, there were just three sexually-transmitted diseases, but that there are now 60, implying that STDs are a common hazard among performers.
In short, the judge revealed a horribly inaccurate understanding both of Wedelstedt’s business and of the adult feature industry in general.
"I’m going to be very still on you guys to follow the rules," Judge Kinkeade concluded. "I want to see something else out of the rest of your lives."
With that, the hearing was adjourned at 11 a.m.
It’s impossible to calculate how many hours went into the defense of this case, but the work was reportedly divided into two main sections: First Amendment issues and tax issues. More than a dozen attorneys were reportedly involved in the research and strategy to a greater or lesser extent, but the primary team consisted of Asbill, Boss, Sims, Brad Reich of Denver, and Richard Anderson and Marlo Cadeddu of Dallas, all of whom were present in the courtroom for the sentencing.
"We prepared to win the trial, and as a result, we were able to win the plea," Asbill summarized.
Also present were Connecticut-based First Amendment attorney Dan Silver, Wedelstedt’s wife and daughter – and five people who appeared to be affiliated with a Religious Right organization.
"The lawyers did a phenomenal job, they really did," Wedelstedt stated at the conclusion of the hearing. "When you stop and think, they started this investigation really in ’94-’95, and where we’re at today, they said there were $50 million – they didn’t find no $50 million. It cost a lot of money, but the company still stayed up; it had to give some stuff up in Texas; we’ll fight back; we’ll be okay. As long as the innocent people didn’t get hurt. These kids [store clerks], all they do is put the movies on that the computer tells them to put on. My wife didn’t do nothing, for God’s sake, but as long as everybody’s okay – like said before, I lived through it once, I can live through it again… All in all, it’s over, and we go forward with our lives now."
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