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Freed child porn trader misses judge's deadline to pay restitution

Michael Meister, 58, faces seven years in prison.

Michael Meister, 58, faces seven years in prison.

TAMPA — Child porn trader Michael D. Meister did something bordering on benevolent at his Dec. 20 sentencing. He agreed to pay $25,000 in criminal restitution to a victim, without a court fight and in a federal circuit where such awards are uncommon.

But Meister, who has multiple cars and a boat registered in his name, also pleaded poverty that day and so U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara's order allowed for a $100-a-month payment plan, with the first check due Jan. 1.

New Year's Day came and went. So did Meister, in a red Cadillac and a blue Corvette.

No check arrived, nor did one appear on Jan. 2, nor by the close of business Jan. 3.

"It's a real slap in the face to the survivor that he would be so callous as to not pay such a nominal amount," says Joe Saunders, attorney for a 28-year-old man whose childhood images were found on Meister's laptop computer. "It's really unbelievable."

Meister was also supposed to pay Saunders $50 a month toward $3,000 in attorney fees for the victim, whose tale of childhood sexual abuse in Kentucky was told Dec. 15 in the Tampa Bay Times.

Contacted by the Times late Friday, Meister sounded more scattered than callous. He said he didn't know where to send the money. When told that the address was included in Judge Lazzara's written sentencing order, Meister said he has been having "major computer problems" and cannot open attachments to emails.

"Trust me, I intend to pay it," he said. He got in his car and drove to Saunders' Pinellas Park office while on the phone with a reporter who provided directions, but the office was closed when he arrived.

Meister, 58, was sentenced Dec. 20 to seven years in federal prison for possession and distribution of sexually explicit images of children. Lazzara allowed him to remain free while he appeals his case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The judge wanted Meister, who has multiple myeloma, to be able to continue treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center.

The topic of money was injected into Meister's three-year court case at several turns. His defense attorney, Michael J. Rosen of Miami, justified requests for out of state travel by saying the man with incurable blood cancer wanted to provide for his family's future. He has two grown sons and a wife who just filed for divorce.

And at sentencing, there were numerous references to Meister's financial ruin, attributed in part to bipolar disorder.

Despite recent struggles, the Auburn-trained certified public accountant was once a big-hitter in business.

He worked for Arthur Andersen & Co. and Price Waterhouse in the 1980s. He was a vice president for Eckerd Corp. in the 1990s. On his resume, he tells of $317 million in drug store chain savings, including the elimination of 600 positions, and another $7 million during a stint as a vice president at Lowe's in the late 1990s.

At the sentencing hearing, Meister told Judge Lazzara that his monthly income is now a $2,500 disability check. He said he pays $600 in rent, along with expenses for health insurance, medical bills and vehicle costs.

State records list nine used vehicles and a boat in his name. Meister said the list — part of a now-public entry on the state sex offender database — overstates his car ownership. Some cars are jointly titled with sons. Others have sold. Some are for sale. But the list shows 1972, 1981 and 1982 Mercedes-Benzes, a 1989 Cadillac, a 1986 Alfa Romeo, a 1972 Triumph, a 1996 Chevrolet, a 2000 Ford station wagon and a 2001 Honda.

In a current online advertisement, he's offering a 1969 Corvette for $23,500. That car didn't make the state list. He has a blue Corvette for sale for $17,500, also not on the state's list.

He said he owes $500,000 in legal fees and another $300,000 for a judgment against him after civil litigation in Denver.

When Meister was first discovered with child porn in 2007, he lived in a $453,100 house at Seminole Lake Country Club in Largo. He sold the home seven months after his August 2010 grand jury indictment.

In another high-profile child porn case, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa recently filed a legal action against the $472,000 St. Petersburg home of American Airlines pilot Donald Gallagher, seeking forfeiture if he is convicted of any of the counts against him.

For Meister, the costs of child porn convictions have gone beyond monetary loss.

Christmas, he said, passed for him this year without any visits from family to the boarding house where he lives.

Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

Freed child porn trader misses judge's deadline to pay restitution 01/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 10:57pm]
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