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Pinellas man whose cancer, travels delayed trial convicted of child porn

Michael Meister, 57, suffers from a blood cancer, court records state. It’s unclear when or if he will go to prison.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Michael Meister, 57, suffers from a blood cancer, court records state. It’s unclear when or if he will go to prison.

TAMPA — A cancer-stricken child pornography defendant who traveled the nation even as dire reports of his illness delayed a trial was convicted Monday of owning and distributing images of minors engaged in sex acts.

Now a felon, Michael D. Meister, 57, has 48 hours to register as a sex offender in Florida.

The Pinellas Park business consultant faces at least five years in prison, but it's still unclear if and when he will serve any time.

His attorney wants Meister to remain free on bail until both the Dec. 19 sentencing and a subsequent appeal are over. The same attorney, Michael J. Rosen of Miami, also says Meister could be deceased in six months.

Rosen described Meister as a "walking time bomb" whose cancer could reactivate at any moment. He suffers from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, court records state.

Stocky, ruddy-faced, with a freshly shaved head, he appeared before U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara at a nonjury trial that lasted an hour. No family members attended. He is married, with adult children.

Absent, too, were witnesses. The judge was already familiar with the evidence, and Meister had just signed a stipulation agreement admitting to possessing and sharing child porn.

Convicting him went quickly, not counting the three-year lag between the 2010 indictment and Monday's trial, a period that saw frequent travel requests from Meister — both personal and for business — and accommodations for medical treatments.

As is typical when judges accept admissions from defendants, Lazzara asked if Meister was thinking clearly. What drugs had he taken that day? He listed Lamictal for bipolar disorder, Xanax for nausea, and for pain, oxycodone and methadone.

"I'm a little bit tired, but yes, it's clear," he said of his mind.

The judge left the room briefly and returned with a decision. He found Meister guilty of two counts of possessing child porn and one count of distributing it.

"There's no question with regard to each and every count that the government has met its burden beyond reasonable doubt," Lazzara said.

The more contentious part of the proceeding centered on attorney Rosen's request for bail to continue through an appeal.

He contends that law enforcement conducted an illegal search on Meister's computer and that the judge should have suppressed it. The case began in July 2007, when Meister took a battered laptop to a computer shop. Transferring a large folder, the technicians noticed file names identifying ages of children and types of sexual activity. They called Kenneth City police.

An appeal can take a year. Rosen predicts months instead.

In a motion filed Friday, he cited other child porn cases in which federal judges allowed felons to stay out of prison pending appeal. The law permits such exceptions. He argued that incarceration would create an unusual hardship, given Meister's cancer.

The government maintains that the Bureau of Prisons can treat Meister's myeloma. But Rosen wrote that Moffitt Cancer Center will offer experimental drugs as the disease progresses.

"To take Mr. Meister away from Moffitt after three years would be incredibly harsh," Rosen said.

The judge gave Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser a week to file a written response.

Orally, she argued against Meister's continued freedom. She said Meister did more than possess porn; he distributed it. He also had a Myspace account listing his age as 17, she said.

A Florida boy appeared in his collected images, she said.

Meister has never been accused of producing porn. His current bail conditions prohibit him from accessing the Internet for anything beyond emails, and he's barred from having unsupervised contact with minors.

Rosen, after the trial, said that Meister has otherwise led a productive and successful life.

"Good people can do bad things," he said.

Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com.

Pinellas man whose cancer, travels delayed trial convicted of child porn 09/23/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 23, 2013 10:34pm]
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