AP NEWS

Waterford Speedbowl owner’s sex trafficking trial begins in Danbury

April 1, 2019 GMT

The sex trafficking trial of Waterford Speedbowl owner Bruce J. Bemer began in Danbury Superior Court Monday with testimony from a Danbury police detective who said he received information about a possible sex trafficking ring in town and called in the FBI once he realized the case was likely to involve multiple jurisdictions.

Bemer, 65, of Glastonbury, who also owns Bemer Petroleum and other businesses, is accused of buying the sexual services of mentally disabled boys and young men who were trafficked by Danbury resident Robert King. Arrested in March 2017, Bemer is free on a $500,000 bond and has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of patronizing a trafficked person and accessory to human trafficking.

In opting for a trial before a jury of six, he turned down an offer from the state to plead guilty in exchange for a period of probation, according to news reports. In addition to the criminal charges, which could land him in prison for decades if he is convicted, he also faces millions of dollars in liability in civil cases brought by the alleged victims.

On Monday, Bemer, who is gray haired, wore a business suit and sat in court with a team of attorneys from the Barry, Barall & Spinella law firm of Manchester. Attorney Wesley J. Horton, a high-profile appellate lawyer, also was in Judge Robin Pavia’s courtroom on his behalf.

In the coming days, prosecutor Sharmese L. Hodge is expected to call to the witness stand seven alleged victims, identified in some court documents by pseudonym John Doe followed by numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 11. The state’s case will likely rest on whether the men, who suffer mental illness and intellectual disabilities, will be able to testify to their experiences with Bemer and the sex trafficking ring. Though the trafficking allegedly occurred for more than 20 years, the state is focusing on crimes it alleges occurred between 2012 and 2016.

The prosecution’s first witness, Detective Daniel Trompetta, now retired from the Danbury Police Department, testified that he began conducting surveillance at Robert King’s trailer park in town after a probation officer from Torrington alerted him to the case. King has since pleaded guilty to running the trafficking operation and agreed to testify about Bemer’s role.

Trompetta testified that King would “cruise group homes,” find people who were vulnerable and get them to sell themselves for sex. The prosecutor showed the jury photos of some of the victims taken during undercover surveillance of King’s trailer park. The detective said that eventually the investigators obtained enough information to secure a search warrant for the trailer, and that King gave the investigators information that led them to Bemer.

Before the trial broke for lunch, Trompetta said he and an FBI agent drove directly to Bemer Petroleum and spoke to Bemer.

Defense attorney Anthony Spinella said while arguing a motion prior to the start of the trial Monday that King, 53, who is being held at the Cheshire Correctional Institution while awaiting sentencing, told another inmate that he would like to get a better deal from the state at sentencing. Spinella was arguing that the state had failed to disclose information in a timely manner that it had received a phone call from a prisoner who told them about King’s statement. The prisoner was William D. Howell, a serial killer serving 360 years in prison for seven murders.

King is expected to be called to the witness stand in the coming days.

k.florin@theday.com