Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas Park child porn defendant's latest trip turned down

TAMPA — For the 21st time since his arrest three years ago on federal child pornography charges, cancer patient Michael D. Meister of Pinellas Park has asked a judge to let him travel.

This time, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara said no.

And, this time, that may be what Meister wanted.

His child porn case is set for trial Sept. 23. Separately, he has a pending civil suit against former business associates in Colorado Springs, Colo. An arbitrator there ruled Wednesday that Meister must attend a two-day hearing next week in person, and not by phone as he requested.

Meister's Colorado attorney previously warned the arbitrator of dire consequences if the multiple myeloma patient traveled.

"It is a real likelihood that Mr. Meister could die if he is required to travel to Colorado for this arbitration hearing," attorney James Zendejas wrote, attaching a note from an oncologist.

Moffitt Cancer Center Dr. Melissa Alsina didn't say the trip would kill Meister, 57, but she advised against it, writing, in part, "His immune system is compromised due to his tandem stem cell transplants and concurrent chemotherapy."

The arbitrator wanted to ask the doctor questions. Meister wouldn't waive his medical privacy. Opposing counsel in the Colorado lawsuit said Meister has traveled when it suited him.

Arbitrator Robbie Barr noted that Meister was well enough to have traveled to Atlanta in July — and so she ordered him to Colorado.

Enter Judge Lazzara, federally empowered to control the criminal defendant's every movement.

Meister needs the judge's permission to leave the Middle District of Florida while on pretrial release in the porn case.

On Thursday, his Florida attorney, Michael Rosen, filed an emergency travel request.

It looked half-hearted given that Rosen also attached the letter from the oncologist saying travel was a bad idea.

Federal prosecutor Amanda Kaiser opposed the trip, too, concerned it would delay the case.

With only three weeks left before a bench trial, the judge ruled that Meister should stay in town, rather than risk a worsened physical condition and possible trial delay.

Lazzara sympathized with his situation but wrote, "It is manifestly clear that allowing Defendant to travel may reasonably cause him to risk incurring a serious infection, thus resulting in having to delay the scheduled trial of this case."

His order expressed hope that the arbitrator would not penalize Meister for his absence.

Meister's blood cancer turned up six months after his indictment on charges of possessing and distributing child porn.

His attorney said the cancer was detected when he attempted to donate a kidney as penance for crimes he does not deny.

A distribution conviction carries a required five-year term.

The images, reported to show boys as young as 5 engaged in sex acts, were detected by computer technicians in July 2007, a police report states. An FBI backlog and other factors delayed charges being filed until 2010.

Lazzara has said in court that he sees no reason to try Meister or incarcerate him. His type of cancer is usually terminal. In July, Meister said his doctor told him he has six months to live.

That month, he was the subject of a Tampa Bay Times article about his travels.

Since then, neighbors have noticed him staying close to home — lately, tinkering with a car in his garage.

Until this week, the judge has consistently approved travel.

In addition to repeat business trips to Savannah, Ga., Meister has joined family and friends in the Florida Keys and for a tour of national parks out West.

Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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