The Bedford Judge and the Brothel Bust
The office on the top floor of the Walsh Professional Center had no name, just two signs on the glass door. "Welcome to," read a row of etched black script letters with empty glass below them. "No Soliciting," warned red letters on a white plaque near the lock. Behind the reception desk hung a hint at the nature of the business: a framed mirror-image silhouette of a woman's legs, her feet in high heels.
The masseuses, in their 20s and early 30s, came to work dressed in sweatshirts, pants and flip-flops, their hair in ponytails. Sometimes they'd stop, laundry baskets full of sheets in hand, to chat with the workers at Cash-2-U Leasing on the first floor. One offered a saleswoman who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis a massage to ease her aches. It all seemed pretty legitimate to the Cash-2-U Leasing ladies, who didn't expect a dozen or so Bedford police and federal agents to rush through the lobby of the building and race to the third floor.
The raid lasted the entire afternoon of Sept. 30, 2013. Police arrested three women, collected evidence in three "massage rooms" and seized about $7,000 in cash, seven cellphones, 10 computers and a credit-card reader.
The Cash-2-U employees watched authorities haul stuff out of the building for more than four hours: customer logs and appointment books, a business card with the name "Studio 54" on it, a binder full of "body rub waivers," a sign that offered a "special 30-minute reverse rub" for $140, ads from a classifieds website, a cyber-shot camera, various sexual paraphernalia and sexually explicit material, a pair of panties and some mesh negligees.
Simultaneously, other police and agents raided the Willoughby Hills home of James Walsh, the Walsh Professional Center's 71-year-old landlord, and seized his black GMC Yukon, boxes of financial documents, savings bonds found in a bedroom safe, a Titan Tiger .38 special revolver and an old Army Colt pistol.
The Studio 54 Girls massage parlor had amped up its advertising in the months before the raid, posting online ads filled with innuendo. "Hott sizzling hands — clean and discreet," read a posting that offered a full body massage from Shannon, "a soft and silky brunette [who] aims to please!" Another Studio 54 Girls posting, on an erotic services site, advertised its location on Northfield Road near Rockside Road. "Come relax with some of Ohio's sexiest girls," it read. "We have a full third floor studio and are looking for new clientele." The same lines appeared on Studio54Girls.com, registered by James Walsh in December 2011 at his building's Northfield Road address.
A week after the raid, police returned to the Walsh Professional Center and arrested its namesake. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty charged Walsh with nine counts of money laundering and six counts of promoting prostitution. McGinty claimed the massage parlor was really a brothel, where women "provided a menu of services ranging from nude massages to sex acts." Some of them, he said, were addicted to drugs and abused by pimps.
Cops make prostitution arrests all the time, but it's not often they take down a purported brothel just down the street from an Applebee's and a two-minute drive from the Bedford Automile. The Studio 54 Girls case soon became the biggest scandal to hit Bedford since Jimmy Dimora got a job at the city's court for his mistress. At least one woman at Studio 54 Girls dropped the name of Harry Jacob III, a Bedford judge, right after the raid. The case quickly grew into a homegrown corruption case that ensnared two men, Bedford's longtime law director and Jacob, a judge with a three-decade legal career who had promised to bring greater integrity to Bedford's court.
The men awaiting felony arraignments took up an entire row on the right side of the Justice Center courtroom, an unbroken line of working-class hard times. One wore a plaid shirt, several wore hoodies and another, in head-to-toe beige work clothes, bounced his knee.
Harry Jacob III walked in wearing a navy sport coat and silky red tie. He didn't go near the other defendants. Instead, he sat two rows behind them, on the aisle, as close as he could to the attorneys mingling on the courtroom's left side. Jacob, 57, with a roundish face and carefully brushed white-gray hair, looked like he belonged with the lawyers.
"How are ya?" Jacob said to one attorney with a not-quite smile. Another patted him on the back as he passed by.
The other defendants stared straight ahead, nervous and humbled. Jacob pulled out a magazine and gazed at it through glasses perched just a bit down his nose.
Judge Michael Astrab stepped onto the bench. All rose, and Astrab began to read the defendants their rights.
Jacob looked forward blankly. He, of all people in the courtroom, knew the law.
His name was called, and he stepped forward to answer the accusations against him: four felonies and seven misdemeanors, including soliciting sex from three prostitutes and accepting sex as a bribe. The felonies included three charges of promoting prostitution — a law commonly used against pimps.
David Grant, one of Jacob's attorneys, entered his plea of not guilty. The prosecutor asked Astrab to set Jacob's bail bond at $10,000.
"He is accused of sexually exploiting vulnerable and drug-addicted women who relied on prostitution to feed their drug habits," said Matthew Meyer, head of the county prosecutor's new public corruption unit. "He allowed these illicit relationships to affect his conduct on the bench by giving his prostitutes special treatment in his court.
"The local brothel and its employees were emboldened to operate freely," Meyer continued, "when they had the city judge and the city prosecutor on their list of customers." (Jacob's co-defendant, Bedford law director Ken Schuman, was arraigned three days later on soliciting, obstruction and bribery charges.)
Grant argued that Jacob posed no flight risk, that he's been married more than 40 years, has two children and cares for his elderly mother.
Astrab set a $5,000 bond, and Jacob exited through a side door to be booked and released.
Outside the courtroom, a reporter asked Grant about the promoting prostitution charge. Grant said its technical definition is engaging others in prostitution, not simply being one-on-one with a prostitute.
"Of course, we adamantly deny that," Grant added. "That never happened."
Black and white: that's how four people who know Jacob describe his world. It happened or it didn't. It's right or it's wrong.
"If you talk to Harry about anything that has to do with the law, it's either this way or that way," says Bill Russo, a Solon city councilman.
In Jacob's 28 years as a lawyer in Solon and four years as a judge in Bedford, he developed a reputation in the legal community for integrity and self-discipline, honesty and directness.
"He's a gentleman," says longtime defense attorney Gerald Gold. "He didn't play palsy-walsy with you, even though he knew you. He's very businesslike and straight-up.
"He's one of the last guys you'd expect to be involved with something like this. He's the guy next door you don't expect anything from."
Almost everything in Jacob's biography backs that up: Youth soccer coach of the year, active member of his local Catholic parish, member of the county bar association, deeply involved in Solon's civic affairs. Friends describe him as even-tempered but direct, courteous but opinionated.
"You knew where Harry Jacob stood when you talked to him," says Solon attorney Bill Carlin. "No pretention, no subterfuge, no bullshit. That was the reason people respected him and liked him."
For years, Jacob coached and then directed the Solon Strikers youth soccer club. "Early is on time, on time is late," Jacob told the young Strikers and their parents so often that people still associate the phrase with him seven years later.
A fullback on Kent State University's soccer team in the '70s (Kent's yearbook called him "especially tough"), Jacob won a statewide youth soccer coach of the year award in 2002. He helped dozens of Solon kids prepare for high school soccer, including his own daughter, Katie, and his son, Patrick, who switched to football and became placekicker for the Princeton Tigers in 2010 and 2011. Jacob also coached his friend Bruce Rutsky's son, who now plays college soccer. But when Rutsky complained that his son's college team was unfairly giving him too little playing time, he got no sympathy.
"If he's good enough, he'll play," Jacob answered.
A collector of rifles and old pistols who practices target shooting at ranges, Jacob would argue adamantly for the right to bear arms. A fiscal conservative, he'd tell friends he thought the Solon schools overspent — yet later admit he voted for a school levy because it benefited the community.
Though direct, he's polite and respectful, local attorneys say. Unlike some judges, he addressed male defendants as "sir."
Jacob grew up in Chagrin Falls but has lived just down the road in Solon for three decades.
"I asked him once, 'How come you don't live in Chagrin?' " says Brad Cisar, his former neighbor in a Solon office complex. "[He said,] 'I can't live there. It's the elitists over there. I just don't like it. I like the diversity here.' "
In four years on the bench, Jacob developed a reputation as a conservative judge, a moderate to stern sentencer, skeptical of motions to suppress evidence. Before he was elected, Jacob chaired Solon's civil service commission and interviewed top candidates for the Solon police and fire departments.
"He knew every police officer," says Cisar. He says Jacob would wave at police driving through their parking lot on night patrol. "Don't you know him?" he'd ask Cisar.
A longtime parishioner at St. Rita Catholic Church in Solon, Jacob served with his wife, Susan, an executive at Sherwin-Williams Co., on the church's pre-Cana team of husbands and wives who counseled young engaged couples about married life.
"My sense is, he's respected by a lot of people in the congregation and liked," says the Rev. Richard K. Burchell of St. Rita.
In 2009, Jacob ran for an open seat on the Bedford Municipal Court. He walked 20 to 30 miles on weekends and knocked on doors across all 14 suburbs the Bedford Municipal Court serves, from Chagrin Falls to Solon to Highland Hills. He campaigned on his legal experience and promised fiscal discipline and integrity.
"When voters elected me to the bench," he wrote in a 2011 letter to residents, "they expected that I would continue striving to make our legal system one that is fair, accessible and ethical."
Jacob served on the Ohio Judicial Conference's Judicial Ethics and Professionalism Committee. In Bedford's court, he insisted on tightening rules to eliminate possible conflicts of interest. When he joined the bench, the court's part-time magistrates could switch roles and practice law before the judges. City prosecutors could moonlight as magistrates. Not anymore.
"When I went over to the court, he would not hear my cases," says his friend, Carlin. "You were not going to sweet-talk him into a decision because he's a friend of yours. He wasn't going to give anybody anything because you're his friend."
Ashley* and her 1-year-old daughter were asleep in the backseat of her car when Sagamore Hills police officer Victoria Miavitz knocked on the window.
It was almost 9 a.m., and the tan Toyota Camry had been parked all night in the back lot between the town house-style apartments and the woods.
Miavitz scanned the mess strewn across the car's seats and floors: cigarettes and ashes, food and clothes, garbage and diapers. It looked like Ashley was living out of her car. It took several window taps to wake her. She was in her early 20s, sandy-haired, pretty, short and very thin.
What are you doing? Miavitz asked.
Ashley said she'd been evicted from her place in Parma, and she'd come to Sagamore Hills to stay with her friend, Stephanie.* Suspicious, Miavitz had her call up to the apartment.
Stephanie came outside, dressed in a nightgown. She was a bit taller than Ashley, a few years older. Miavitz knew her. Three months before, Miavitz had taken Stephanie's kids, ages 5 and 9, to Shop with a Cop, a charity event at the local Wal-Mart.
Yes, Stephanie said, Ashley was going to stay with her.
Miavitz radioed in both women's names and learned Stephanie was wanted in Orange on an unpaid speeding ticket. Miavitz had to arrest her, but first, she accompanied Stephanie to her apartment so she could change clothes. Trash was strewn around some rooms. Clothes covered the apartment floor. The place smelled like cat urine.
Outside, Miavitz handcuffed Stephanie. Ashley told her she'd watch Stephanie's kids and come by to bail her out.
Miavitz took Stephanie to a nearby Sam's Club parking lot, and handed her off to the Orange police, who booked her at Bedford Municipal Court. For evading the speeding ticket, Stephanie now also faced a contempt of court charge. She posted a $250 bond, was released and received a court date. Her case was assigned to Jacob.
Over the next seven weeks, from March through May 2012, the Sagamore Hills police dealt with an escalating series of calls, complaints and confrontations involving Ashley and Stephanie. Police reports show that officers, neighbors and family members believed Ashley and Stephanie were leaving their children unattended, using drugs and engaging in prostitution. Bedford police reports also place Ashley and Stephanie at the Walsh Professional Center in May 2012.
Callers claimed the two women were engaging in prostitution on the third floor of the Walsh Professional Center while their children were also in the building.
Four days after Miavitz arrested Stephanie, she took a social worker assigned to Ashley's case to the apartment. Ashley looked like she hadn't showered in days. She couldn't stand still, kept bouncing, couldn't look them in the eye. Miavitz thought she was high, but couldn't tell on what.
Ashley recognized the social worker, who'd been on her case for a year and had fielded several recent complaints about her. She told him she would keep moving so he couldn't find her again.
A week later, a man who claimed to be the father of Ashley's 4-year-old son came to the Sagamore Hills police station and said she'd denied him joint custody of the boy. He said he thought Ashley was using drugs and prostituting herself in Stephanie's apartment.
The landlord served Stephanie an eviction notice in early April. Stephanie's relatives called police and visited the apartment, hoping to take her kids with them. Stephanie told police she had a drug addiction, but refused to let anyone take her children, a report says. Two days later, neighbors called Stephanie's sister to say the kids were playing outside and had been left home alone. Her sister called police, but Stephanie came home before they arrived. Next time, they told her, they'd call children's services.
Meanwhile, Stephanie's court date in Bedford was looming. Around this time, Ashley appears to have introduced Stephanie to Jacob.
"She knew nothing about the judge," Stephanie's mother says. "She met him from [Ashley]. She had a traffic ticket from Bedford. [Ashley] says, 'I know a judge. Let's go.' "
Jacob disposed of Stephanie's case April 20. He dismissed the contempt of court charge against her and fined her $250 for speeding. That allowed her to use the $250 bond she'd posted in March to settle the case.
It appears that Jacob did not handle Stephanie's case in the courtroom, says Tom Day, Bedford clerk of courts. There's no audio recording of a hearing. That suggests Jacob resolved the case at the cashier's window, Day says — a relatively common practice in Bedford's court when defendants stop in to resolve a case before a court date.
On its own, Stephanie's $250 fine may not seem unusual. Judges sometimes dismiss contempt charges against missing defendants once they show up to make amends. But a young mother facing eviction, likely desperate for money and possibly fearing jail, may have seen it as a break. In fact, four days later, Stephanie resolved another outstanding traffic case in Garfield Heights. There, judge Jennifer Weiler ordered her to pay $657 in fines and costs, and sentenced her to a year of probation.
This past fall, a court record shows, a grand jury took an interest in Stephanie's Bedford case file. Jacob was indicted weeks later.
The indictment accuses the judge of committing four crimes April 20, 2012, the day he resolved Stephanie's case, including accepting sex as a bribe, soliciting sex for hire and supervising, managing or controlling a prostitute's activities.
In the fourth charge, he's accused of inducing or procuring two women to engage in sex for hire: Jane Doe 3, whom he'd allegedly been involved with for five months, and a new woman, Jane Doe 4. Ashley and Stephanie appear to be Jane Does 3 and 4.
The prosecutors' evidence list in Jacob's case includes crime scene photographs of the Bedford court's cashier window and hallway. The list also includes receipts Ashley and Stephanie had from the Comfort Inn in Independence and lingerie that prosecutors believe Jacob gave to Stephanie.
The consequences of Jacob's encounter with Ashley and Stephanie wouldn't emerge for a year and a half. But in the weeks afterward, Ashley and Stephanie's problems deepened.
On May 1, 2012, Sagamore Hills police Sgt. Dan Rice pulled into Stephanie's apartment complex to help a locked-out resident. A young woman came over and told him men were coming and going from Stephanie's apartment at all hours of the night.
Rice noticed a well-dressed, 62-year-old man walking around the apartment complex and watched him go into Stephanie's apartment. About 10 minutes later, the man came out and Rice confronted him. The man said he'd answered an online escort ad and gotten directions to Stephanie's apartment, where the man found Stephanie and Ashley dressed in only bras and panties. (He told the officer he'd only used the bathroom and then come back outside for a change of clothes.)
Days later, another report says, one of Stephanie's relatives called and claimed Stephanie was high and prostituting out of her home.
Rice says he talked to Stephanie several times, but she always claimed her visitors were friends.
"She was a beautiful girl," Rice says. "[But then] her appearance changes, her face changes — she just went off the wrong path."
On May 9, Miavitz, Rice and three other police officers escorted a social worker to Stephanie's apartment. She let them in. They could barely get around all the bags, boxes and plastic tubs crammed into the place. Stephanie said she'd been evicted and had started to pack. Based on her home's condition, the police removed her children and Stephanie's mother took temporary custody.
The indictment suggests Jacob stopped seeing Jane Doe 3 around May 1, 2012, but it alleges he solicited Jane Doe 4 three more times, in June, August and September 2012. On one of those days, Aug. 14, Stephanie came to a relative's house intoxicated around 10 p.m., according to a police report listed among the prosecutors' evidence in the Jacob case. Stephanie wanted to see her kids or take them with her. But she had lost custody by then, and police took her away from the house.
On July 15, 2012, Ashley called a friend from the Walsh building and told him she'd taken several hundred pills to kill herself. Two Bedford fire officers rushed to the building and forced their way into the third-floor office with a steel pry bar.
All the doors inside the office were locked, but they found keys and unlocked them all. In one room, they found Ashley's 1-year-old daughter, asleep. In the last room they checked, they found Ashley lying half-conscious on a futon. Hundreds of pills were scattered on the floor around her.
Around the office, police found an abortion drug, misoprostol, and six grams of heroin. They went to the hospital's intensive care unit to interview Ashley, but she wouldn't talk.
Medical tests found no drugs in her system. The pills turned out to be vitamins and aspirin. The police called children's services to report a case of child neglect.
For more than a year after Ashley's incident, Bedford police say, they investigated the third-floor business, looking for enough evidence to obtain a search warrant and identify who was running it. They raided the office and James Walsh's Willoughby Hills home Sept. 30, 2013. That day, a police source says, one or more women at the office mentioned Jacob's name, and Walsh mentioned Ken Schuman, Bedford's law director.
On Oct. 8, Bedford police investigating Walsh asked Schuman about his relationship with a woman, according to charges and filings from the county prosecutor. Schuman is now accused of lying about the relationship in order to aid Walsh and soliciting a woman, Jane Doe 1, for sex for hire five days later.
(Schuman also faces several apparently unrelated charges, most of them late-breaking parts of the yearslong Cuyahoga County corruption investigation. He's accused of accepting a bribe in 2006 in exchange for helping the law firm of attorney Anthony Calabrese III, a central figure in the countywide corruption scheme, obtain work as Bedford's bond counsel.)
Meanwhile, Cuyahoga County investigators were closing in on Jacob. The prosecutors' evidence list in his case mentions a photo of Ashley's Facebook page, with Jacob on her friends list. On Nov. 6, jail records show, Ashley was arrested and detained on prostitution charges. (However, no formal charges have been brought against her in open court.) The next day, Ashley phoned Jacob while investigators listened in. The evidence list against Jacob also includes the call transcript and Jacob's "swipe in/out records" for that day — possibly evidence that he left work after getting Ashley's call.
Prosecutors accuse Jacob of seeing prostitutes for almost four years, from January 2009, a year before he became a judge, to September 2012. But they only accuse him of corrupting his office in April 2012, the month he let Stephanie off with the $250 fine.
(The grand jury also scrutinized the Bedford court case of a woman accused of soliciting prostitution in Orange in October 2012. Her case was originally assigned to Jacob, but he was on vacation the week it was resolved. An acting judge accepted her plea to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, fined her and sentenced her to probation. Jacob is not charged with any crimes in connection with her case.)
Two of the three charges that Jacob promoted prostitution are focused on April 20, 2012, the day Jacob resolved Stephanie's case. The third charge claims that from December 2011 to May 2012, Jacob induced or procured two women to engage in sex for hire, Jane Doe 3 and another woman, Jane Doe 2.
"I would be cautious in believing that Judge Jacob engaged in the classic function of a pimp," says Terry Gilbert, a prominent civil rights and criminal defense lawyer. "Usually in these cases, there are over-indictments."
Prosecutors have said Jacob was a customer of Studio 54 Girls. They haven't claimed he was involved in the business or profited from it.
Gerald Gold, the longtime defense attorney, says the promoting prostitution law may also apply when a defendant connects a prostitute with another client. For instance, Gold once defended a businessman accused of promoting prostitution at a furniture conference.
"He was picking up working girls who hung around during shows, fixing them up with his guys," Gold recalls. "They said that was promoting prostitution, was acting the same way a pimp would act."
Jacob has been on medical leave since Nov. 19, 2013. The Ohio Supreme Court has barred him from the bench until his Dec. 19 indictment is resolved. No trial dates have been set for Jacob, Schuman or Walsh. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
Ashley did not respond to a message seeking an interview. Stephanie's mother says her daughter doesn't trust reporters and isn't inclined to talk. Stephanie is spending time with her kids now, though her mother still has custody.
Miavitz says she ran into Stephanie not long ago while on patrol in Sagamore Hills.
12:00 AM EST
February 24, 2014