CLEARWATER — A jury on Thursday convicted a video producer and a woman in the videotaped beating of a mentallydisabled homeless man in 2011.
Jeffrey Williams, 61, of St. Petersburg, and Zuzu Vargo, 27, of Fruitland Park, were found guilty of one count each of aggravated abuse of a disabled adult after a Pinellas Circuit Court jury deliberated for less than two hours.
Prosecutors say Williams arranged for James Cayer, 39, a developmentally disabled schizophrenic, to be beaten by a scantilyclad 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.
The pair will be held without bond until their sentencing, which has not been scheduled. Under sentencing guidelines, Williams and Vargo face roughly 37 months in jail, Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said.
Allegations that Williams was recruiting homeless men from Williams Park in St. Petersburg for his videos came to the attention of St. Petersburg police in early 2011.
Williams has acknowledged to detectives that he paid $300 to the girls featured in the beat-downs, and they also get a percentage of profits once the videos are sold. The men routinely receive $50, but no percentage, according to a St. Petersburg police report. They also signed consent forms relieving Williams of liability.
The videos have been sold on “clips4sale,” an amateur and fetish porn website that sells videos falling into categories such as bondage and female domination. State and local authorities received tips that videos were also sold on a website called “Shefights.net.”
The video in which Cayer appears is titled, “A very painful beating copyright of Shefights Productions.”
When the videos are sold, Williams told detectives he gets 60 percent, and “clips4sale” receives 20 percent, the police report states.
“Our society is very tolerant of people who live on the fringe,” Davidson told jurors during closing arguments. “But when you choose to make your living pandering to a subculture, a dangerous subculture, your rights stop when they infringe on the rights of others, when they cause injury to people, when they cause pain and suffering to people and especially to people who obviously can’t protect themselves.”
One issue raised during the trial was whether Cayer, who has an IQ of 69, knew what he was doing when he signed his waiver and consent form.
Prosecutors said he wasn’t, and they suggested jurors could tell by seeing him in court when he testified Wednesday.
“It’s obvious to everyone in this room that Mr. Cayer is disabled,” Davidson said. “A written waiver or release signed by Mr. Cayer isn’t worth the piece of paper it’s written on.”
Williams’ and Vargo’s defense attorneys argued that Cayer was never deemed mentally incompetent by a judge and was generally functional.
Vargo’s attorney, Daniel Hernandez, told jurors his client had no idea Cayer was mentally disabled. But Susan St. John, another prosecutor, told them such ignorance doesn’t protect someone from being charged with a crime.
“They have an obligation to know who it is they’re dealing with,” St. John said.