MANILA––“Crush video” makers Victor Ridon and Chita Dorma Ridon, his wife, were on September 28, 2014 convicted of human trafficking and sentenced to life in prison in the northern Philippines city of San Fernando.
The life sentences stood in stark contrast to the failure of Miami-Dade prosecutors to obtain any felony charges against Hammond organ heir Adam Redford, 58, for similar alleged offenses exposed earlier in 2014. (See subhead below.)
Court clerk Allen Sarmiento told Agence France-Presse that the “crush video” verdict against the Ridons was the first such conviction in the Philippines.
“However,” AFP added, “Philippine police have also conducted raids against individuals who make children perform sex acts for a global Internet audience.”
In addition, Philippine police in 2011 and 2012 repeatedly broke up a ring of at least six South Koreans and 17 Filipinos who allegedly organized dogfights that were broadcast via web links from the Philippines to gambling dens in South Korea.
As in the “crush video” case, the criminal charges brought in the dogfighting cases were chiefly for offenses other than the crimes against animals.
PETA pursued the perps
“The Ridons,” who lived in Bacnotan, La Union, “were arrested in 2011 and put on trial in 2012,” AFP summarized, “following a complaint by PETA. The court found the couple had forced several babysitters, including one aged 12 and a 16-year-old, to perform in dozens of ‘crush fetish’ videos. The two minors testified against the couple, who were also given prison terms of between two and 15 years for child abuse and cruelty to animals.”
“They were also fined a total of 9.91 million pesos ($221 000) each,” AFP reported.
The Ridons are believed to have sold “crush videos” via web links to customers in the U.S., France, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, and Britain.
The Ridons were arrested in mid-2011, after PETA alleged that six girls between the ages of 12 and 18 were coerced into participating in making “crush videos,” and provided evidence to Philippine authorities.
However, the Ridons almost immediately posted bail and fled San Fernando, senior police inspector Martin Ngadao told AFP. PETA then posted a reward of $2,200 for information leading to the re-arrest of the Ridons, who were caught again nine days later.
The offenses for which the Ridons were convicted occurred chiefly in 2008 and 2009. Killed by various cruel means were sea snakes, chicks, rabbits, guinea pigs, a puppy, dogs, frogs, rats, and a monkey.
The convictions of the Ridons, and the stiff sentences they received, are not believed to have ended the “crush video” industry in the Philippines. The Philippine Animal Welfare Society in October 2013 appealed for public help to apprehend the makers of a new “crush video” showing three girls stomping a puppy to death.
“If someone can actually give us the names and addresses of the people in the video, we can file the case immediately,” PAWS told the Philippine Inquirer.
Hammond organ heir
Successful in the Ridon case, PETA had less success against Redford and alleged “crush video” actresses Stephanie Hird, 29, and Sara Zamora, 28, also known as Glori Shynez.
Hird and Zamora were both arrested in Miami-Dade County, Florida, in April 2014, though Hird was reportedly living in Arkansas. Zamora was reportedly already in jail on other pending charges including grand-theft with a firearm, cocaine possession, and credit card fraud.
Hird and Zamora allegedly performed in videos made 10 years earlier by Hammond organ heir Adam Redford, a South Florida charter fishing boat skipper who styled himself “Captain Codpiece.”
Cruelty charges against Hird and Zamora were dropped on May 29, 2014, after the Miami-Dade prosecutors office determined that the videos were made so long ago that the statute of limitations for bringing charges had lapsed.
Redford had already plea-bargained a 2013 misdemeanor cruelty conviction in connection with making and distributing the videos.
Responding to a tip from PETA, Lee County Sheriff’s detectives in January 2012 raided Redford’s home in Estero, Florida.
“The case was not strong––many of the videos seized were made outside Lee––and Redford accepted probation,” reported David Ovalle of the Miami Herald.
Redford “hails from a wealthy, prominent South Miami-Dade family,” Ovalle continued. “His mother was Polly Redford, the daughter of Laurens Hammond, inventor of the electric organ. Polly Redford, who died in 1972, was a well-known local conservationist. His father was Jim Redford, who spent 14 years as a Dade County Commissioner before losing a reelection bid in 1988. An owner of Burger King franchise restaurants, the commissioner was an avid fisherman known for his work protecting South Florida’s environment.”
Adam Redford, Ovalle wrote, “was first featured in the Miami Herald in 1966 when he was 9––posing with his mother’s pet raccoon for a story about a book she wrote on the critters.”
Traffic grew with the web
The “crush video” traffic first came to light when British Customs in mid-1997 intercepted several videos mailed by one “Jeff Vilencia” of “Squish Productions” in California. The interception appears to have accelerated the transition of “crush video” makers to distributing the videos directly through the web, instead of through physical delivery services.
British Customs took the 1997 videos to Martin Daly of the Royal SPCA. Daly obtained investigative help from Cassandra Brown of the London Sunday Telegraph.
Unaware of that case, then-America Online “Animals & Society” host Susan Roghair independently discovered several web sites that promoted and sold “crush videos” for download––at the time, a relatively new technology. Roghair in October 1997 sought investigative help from ANIMALS 24-7 founder Merritt Clifton, PETA, AnimalTalk host Dick Weevil, and Ohio animal rights attorney Shawn Thomas. Thomas was already pursuing a parallel investigation of his own, after finding some of the same web sites.
Simultaneously, unknown to any of the other investigators, the Suffolk County SPCA was closing in on crush video producer Thomas Capriola, 30, of Islip Terrace, Long Island. Capriola in December 2000 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cruelty to animals and fifth-degree possession of marijuana, and was sentenced to serve 280 hours of community service with three years on probation.
The original investigation brought the August 1999 arrests and eventual plea bargain convictions of “crush video” star Diane Aileen Chaffin, 35, of La Puente, California, and producer Gary Lynn Thomason, 48, of Anaheim. Each drew a year in jail and three years on probation.
Convicted in Britain were Craig Chapman, 27, Christine Besford, 26, Sarah Goode, 22, and Tharaza Smallwood, 22. Chapman was in May 2002 sentenced to serve two years in jail. The three women drew four months each. All four defendants were also fined and banned for life from keeping pets.
While pending before the courts, the U.S. and British cases inspired the 1998 passage of U.S. federal legislation introduced by Representative Elton Gallegly of California, which sought to criminalize not only the making of “crush videos,” but their sale and distribution. The 1998 law was first tested in the 2004 prosecution in Pennsylvania of Robert G. Stevens, a Virginia resident, for selling videotapes of Japanese dogfighting and “hog/dog rodeo,” in which dogs––usually pit bulls or Patterdale terriers––are set upon pigs. Stevens was convicted in 2005, but appealed. In April 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Gallegly law as excessively broad.
The Supreme Court verdict led to the dismissal of what had been expected to be the second major test of the Gallegly law. Jarrod Hayn, 38, of Kampsville, Missouri, had been indicted in March 2010 for selling a 40-minute DVD inviting viewers to “Come and ride along with me while I drive on some of the most deer-infested roads in the Midwest and use my vehicle to run them down.”
The DVD reportedly showed Hayn hitting deer, mostly in Illinois on his commutes to a job as an Illinois Department of Corrections officer. Attorney Ed Fanning, representing Hayn, told Robert Patrick of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the case cost Hayn the position.
Prosecutors reportedly invoked the Gallegly law against Hayn after deciding that he could not be prosecuted for poaching because the DVD did not identify exactly where or when the deer were killed.
U.S. President Barack Obama in late 2010 endorsed into law a new federal bill banning interstate distribution of videos showing “actual conduct in which one or more living animal is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, or impaled in a manner that would violate a criminal prohibition on cruelty to animals.” The 2010 law exempts videos showing hunting, trapping, fishing, or any typical veterinary or agricultural husbandry practices.
Sim Lake ruling
The 2010 law, however, was on April 17, 2013 held unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, of Houston, Texas. Lake, the first judge to consider a case under the 2010 law, wrote that it “abridges the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment,” creating “a criminal prohibition of alarming breadth,” which is “therefore unconstitutional.”
In particular, Lake argued, the 2010 law attempted to create a new legal definition of obscenity.
The Lake ruling obliged U.S. federal prosecutors to drop a series of obscenity charges filed in October 2012 against alleged “crush video” producers Ashley Nicole Richards, 22, and Brent Wayne Justice, 51.
Felony cruelty charges against both Richards and Justice remained pending. Pleading guilty to three felony counts in November 2013, Richards on May 29, 2014 was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison. Prosecutor Jessica Milligan had asked that Richards serve 10 years consecutively on each of five counts, meaning that she could have spent up to 50 years in prison.
Justice, who had repeatedly changed counsel, remained in custody awaiting sentencing, in lieu of posting a $50,000 bond.
The original federal charges against Richards and Justice, meanwhile, were reinstated on June 13, 2014 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the Lake verdict.
Like most other recent “crush video” case defendants, Richards and Justice were brought to the attention of law enforcement after their activity came to the notice of PETA. PETA in turn obtained help from the Animal Beta Project, described by Houston Press crime reporter Craig Malisow as “a loose affiliation of animal-welfare activists and online sleuths.” The Animal Beta Project reportedly identified Richards within 48 hours. Houston police promptly arrested Richards and Justice, who shared the same address.
“Crush video” making and trafficking, though mostly a U.S. and European phenomenon, had occasionally surfaced in Asia before the Ridon case.
Most memorably, Chinese web activists in March 2006 rapidly identified hospital nurse Wang Jue, of northern Heilongjiang province, after she allegedly stomped a kitten to death in a video, and publicized her personal information, along with that of the alleged videographer, identified as Luobei Television cameraman. While China has no law under which either Wang Jue or Li Yuejun could be prosecuted, Wang Jue lost her job, while Li Yuejun wrote a published apology and self-criticism.
The Wang Jue case had further repercussions when the state-run China Daily took the opportunity to editorially argue for the passage of national cruelty law, while state Forestry Administration director of wildlife and plant protection Zhou Rongsheng announced regulations to improve the care of animals on fur farms and prohibit live skinning.
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