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Orlando Weekly Case Dropped – Freedom Rings

Even in Flori-duh
Freedom Rings

Back in October, in an act that Fidel Castro couldn’t have orchestrated with greater skill, Orlando law enforcement agency, MBI raided the alternative newspaper, The Orlando Weekly, and arrested three of its employees for accepting advertisements from escort agencies.

The Orlando Weekly speculated (credibly, I might add) that the raid was in retaliation for its negative press coverage of MBI. The O-Weekly article detailing their claims of MBI’s record of corruption and ineptitude is here, and is a must read.

I initially reported on the raid here: The Orlando Weekly Case.

This week’s Orlando Weekly reports that the spat seems to be over.

On Feb. 27, the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation dropped all charges of racketeering against Orlando Weekly , and accepted pretrial diversion ­– adjudication withheld and charges ultimately dropped – against the three employees it accused of aiding and abetting prostitution and deriving income from prostitution. In exchange, the Orlando Weekly agreed to reimburse the MBI $10,000 for its investigation, drop its ads for escort services and issue a statement that says three classified advertising employees – Brian Martin, Matt Whiting and Kate Miller – violated company policy by accepting advertisements from undercover MBI agents posing as prostitutes.

Thus ended the agency’s two-year investigation dubbed “Operation Weekly Shame.” (source)

Although MBI is claiming victory in the press, Orlando Weekly columnist Jeffrey Billman (never one to back down from a fight) has a different take.

[MBI} charged the paper with violating state RICO (racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations) laws and the felony of deriving support from prostitution, and collectively charged [Orlando Weekly employees] with the same felony and 16 misdemeanor charges of aiding and abetting prostitution.

What they settled for, out of court, were dropped charges and concessions befitting someone nailed for reckless driving. How Orlando’s morality police went from fangs bared to tail between their legs is an old story, one the Weekly has written extensively. It goes like this: The MBI is vindictive and answerable to no one. Its managers don’t know the law. It wastes thousands of tax dollars on undercover investigations that produce few results.

The Weekly wrote those stories. The MBI came after the paper with charges serious enough to put it out of business. The charges were dropped and the case was settled out of court. You decide who won.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, Billman’s pen is mightier than a freakin wrecking ball. This passage takes some wind out of MBI’s sails:

As this newspaper reported Oct. 25, other publications – including Watermark, The Orlando Post , the Orlando Sentinel’s website and local phone books – also run ads for what appear to be escort services or sexually suggestive massage parlors. But none of those publications, [MBI Director Bill] Lutz said in his deposition, is “a widely distributed mechanism to support the prostitution industry. The Orlando Weekly is.”

Lutz said he wasn’t aware of a problem at any publication except the Weekly . “I know [those ads exist] because Orlando Weekly said they have it,” Lutz said in his deposition. “But I can tell you that it’s not something that we find a widely distributed mechanism that reaches the general population.”

Steve Mason, the attorney representing the Weekly employees, questioned Lutz in the deposition, hammering on the issue of reprisal: “In other words,” he said, “you’re just telling me absolutely that the fact that the Weekly has run pictures of your agents with their penis, talked about your agents having sex with prostitutes, talked about the bungling and the ineptitude of the MBI and how you arrest old grandmothers and scare them to death, and do every nasty thing for the last 30 years, that had nothing to do with the arrests and [it was] because the Orlando Weekly is the source of all prostitution and all these people that spend thousands of dollars in all of these other publications, that doesn’t amount to anything?”

Orlando Weekly and attorney Steve Mason — ring that bell.

Read the rest of the article here.

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