Saturday, November 25, 2017
News Roundup

Pinellas child porn convict jailed for violating terms of release

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TAMPA — Had Michael D. Meister been locked up in 2007 after authorities found child porn on his laptop computer, his seven-year prison sentence would nearly be over.

Instead, he got blood cancer. The case against him, initially delayed by a computer forensics backlog, met up with the sympathies of a federal district judge reluctant to imprison a man benefitting from medical care at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

Until this week, Meister, convicted in September of trading sometimes sadistic images of children, hadn't spent a single night behind bars.

That changed Friday.

The big question is why.

Meister, 58, was booked by U.S. Marshals into the Pinellas County jail, where he is expected to remain until a hearing Monday.

Few details have been made public. Amy Filjones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, said Saturday that Meister was arrested for violating the terms of his supervised release but she didn't yet know the particulars.

Meister's defense attorney, Michael Rosen, said he doesn't know the reason for the arrest.

Defendants on supervised release walk a minefield of potential hazards. Violations can be triggered by anything from a small procedural oversight to a new encounter with police.

Legally, Meister can't drink excessively, go on the Internet, or visit playgrounds, theme parks or schools. He's barred, of course, from viewing nude or sexually explicit images of children. He has to follow sex offender reporting procedures and the terms of his release require frequent contact with court officials.

This wouldn't be the first time he has run afoul of a worker supervising his release.

He cut off an ankle monitor on Halloween in 2010 and was reprimanded both by U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara and Magistrate Judge Thomas G. Wilson. Meister said he had twisted an ankle. Court records show Wilson warned him that if he removed the device again, he would either be confined to home or taken into custody.

Meister is also under orders to pay restitution; specifically, $25,000, at a rate of $100 per month to a man whose childhood images were downloaded.

The Tampa Bay Times discovered in January that Meister had missed his first payment. After it was pointed out to him, he caught up and has remained current, the victim's attorney said.

Meister, who rents an apartment in the Lealman area of Pinellas County, was granted bond by Wilson in August 2010, when federal charges grew out of a case first reported by the Kenneth City Police Department. A technician at a computer shop discovered the porn on a laptop.

Six months after the grand jury indictment was filed, Meister was diagnosed with a high-risk form of multiple myeloma.

The criminal case before Lazzara took three years and four months to play out, from arrest to sentencing, slowed by Meister's occasional medical treatments and frequent travels for business and pleasure.

Lazzara, with support from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowed Meister to stay free after his conviction and throughout a pending appeal. That required special treatment by the judge because federal law views child pornographers as violent criminals who should not be granted bond after a conviction.

Although Meister has admitted to downloading and sharing child porn — created by others — his attorney has questioned the legality of the computer search.

Rosen's appellate brief is due to the 11th Circuit on Tuesday.

Meister is an Auburn University-trained business consultant whose work history includes stints at Eckerd Corp. and Arthur Andersen. When his legal battle began, he lived in a nice house on a golf course and was a married father of two grown sons.

Now, former business associates from Colorado have a $357,555 judgment against him. His divorce, made final 10 days ago, requires that he maintain a $1.5 million life insurance policy, payable to his ex-wife.

When jailed Friday, he had $6.16 on him.

Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected]

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