LARGO — A judge gave prison sentences on Monday to two people behind an internet fetish video that showed a mentally disabled man being kicked and beaten.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Keith Meyer sentenced Shefights.net producer and entrepreneur Jeffery Williams, 61, to seven years in prison. He gave performer Zuzu Vargo, 27, roughly three years in prison, plus three years' probation.
Both defendants apologized in court. Vargo, in tears, said she did not know the man she was punching and kicking in the video was mentally impaired. She said others checked the men out before making the videos.
But, she said, "I shouldn't have trusted the judgment of someone else. … I'm so sorry for all the trauma and distress."
Williams also professed ignorance to the victim's mental condition and said it was a key principle within the bondage-sadomasochism community that nobody inflicts more pain than a person wants to receive.
"We're not in the business of hurting people … we're in the business of a fantasy enactment for a certain subset of the population." Williams added that, "I deeply regret the pain and the anguish that we caused."
But Assistant State Attorney Susan St. John said the victim's mental condition would have been obvious to Williams and Vargo. As an example of his functioning, she quoted the man's explanation for why he's scared of police: "Because they have guns and hats."
Judge Meyer also said it was clear the man had a disability. According to evidence presented in court, the man was schizophrenic and off his medicine. He had left his group home, gotten lost for a month, stayed around Williams Park in St. Petersburg and eventually got recruited to appear in the Shefights video for about $50.
"I find it completely incredible that you would not have picked up within the first few seconds … how substantially he was impaired," Meyer said.
And that, he said, made it a crime. He said if the victim had been a consenting adult, "we wouldn't even be here today. Because people get to do what they want in this country."
"I'm not passing judgment on your lifestyle one bit," he added.
Vargo's attorney Daniel Hernandez asked for a sentence below state guidelines, saying she had a dual diagnosis of substance abuse problems and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Meyer would not go below the guidelines but gave her less time than Williams: slightly more than three years in prison, plus three years of probation. During her probation, she must get mental health treatment.
The victim was not in court.
Prosecutors on Monday showed the video, although the judge already had seen it. The victim groaned and grunted as Vargo punched him in the ribs and face. He fell to the ground and she punched him more. She kicked him as well.
The sentencing on Monday follows a trial in December in which Williams and Vargo were convicted of aggravated abuse of a disabled adult, a first-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. The sentencing completes that case, but it's not the end for the two. They both face similar charges in a separate, pending case with a different victim.