Friday, Dec 19, 2014

Pair sentenced in videotaped beating of homeless man

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Published:   |   Updated: April 22, 2014 at 08:40 AM

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A producer in the 2011 videotaped beating of a mentally disabled homeless man was sentenced to seven years in prison Monday, while the woman who beat the man was sentenced to about three years.

Jeffery Williams, 61, of St. Petersburg, and Zuzu Vargo, 27, of Fruitland Park, were found guilty last year of one count each of aggravated abuse of a disabled adult.

Prosecutors say Williams arranged for James Cayer, 39, a developmentally disabled schizophrenic, to be beaten by a scantily clad Vargo on July 30, 2011, while Williams videotaped the one-sided match. At the time, Williams and his company, J.P. Florida Productions, routinely videotaped such beatings and sold the videos to websites specializing in sadomasochistic pornography.

Pinellas Circuit Judge Keith Meyer could have sentenced the pair to up to 30 years in prison by statute, and prosecutors were asking for 10 years.

But, according to sentencing guidelines, which take into account a defendant’s criminal history, Williams and Vargo were looking at 37 1/2 months, or 3.125 years. That’s what Meyer meted out to Vargo, but he gave a longer sentence to Williams in part because he was an experienced businessman.

In addition, the judged doubted that Williams could not immediately surmise Cayer’s mental illness when he had him sign a waiver to avoid any liability once Cayer stepped into the ring with Vargo.

“I find it completely incredible that you would not have picked up within the first few seconds ... how substantially impaired Mr. Cayer was,” Meyer told Williams.

Williams’ attorney, Luc Lirot, argued the videos his client produced catered to bondage and sadommasochistic aficionados. In 800 of the thousand videos produced over seven years, Williams told Meyer he used the same group of men.

“There is never an intent to actually injure anybody, but we want to make it as realistic as possible,” Williams said. “It’s a portrayal of fantasy.”

Typically, the men would be given $50 to participate, while the women beating them receive $300.

Daniel Hernandez, Vargo’s defense attorney, argued that she was a minor participant in the operation compared with Williams, and was working at his behest.

A psychologist testified that Vargo suffered from substance abuse and mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and would benefit from treatment.

Meyer ordered that she undergo treatment once she’s released from prison and serves three years of probation.

Vargo, who wept through much of the court proceeding, apologized to Cayer and his family.

“I wish I could erase it all,” she said.

Williams and Vargo still face two counts each of aggravated abuse of a disabled adult in connection with the beating of a different victim.

sthompson@tampatrib.com. (727) 216-6504.

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