Crime

Pearl porn case fades away due to conflicts

One of the Keys' most closely watched criminal cases in recent years came to an end this week with little fanfare and no trial -- but its tentacles, it turns out, tangentially found their way into a bribery case against a Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy, forcing a jurisdiction change.

Robert Pearl, 42, an alleged con man whose 2013 misdemeanor false-identification arrest snowballed into a major child porn case, will serve about 10 more months in county jail before leaving as a registered sex offender.

That was the gist of the deal his attorneys Jude Faccidomo and Mycki Ratzan made with Francine Donnorummo, a prosecutor in the 20th Judicial Circuit on Florida's southwest coast, Monday.

Pearl pleaded guilty to nine counts of possessing child pornography and one count each of giving false information to police and using fake identification.

For the child porn charges, County Judge Reagan Ptomey sentenced Pearl to 38 months in jail with credit for time served. Ptomey sentenced Pearl to 364 days respectively for each of the other two charges, sentences that count as being served concurrently with the rest of his time in jail.

Faccidomo said his client has about 10 more months left in lockup. On release, Pearl will be a registered sex offender, a fact Pearl told Ptomey he understood and could accept.

"This case had become such an ordeal for Mr. Pearl that [the] end result is more reflective of his pragmatism than the strength of the state's case," Pearl's counsel said in a statement.

But he won't necessarily be a free man when his time in the Monroe County jail is up. He has pending federal fraud charges in Indiana, where his alleged victims say he convinced them he was with Apple Computers and opening an Apple Store in Fort Wayne -- before skipping town with investors' money.

Faccidomo said it's "likely" Pearl will have to go to Indiana to face those charges.

"There is currently a hold on him pursuant to the federal case," Faccidomo said in an e-mail Monday. "We have been in contact with the prosecutor in Indiana and are working toward a resolution."

Similar to Pearl's alleged schemes -- like successfully convincing county officials in North Carolina he was a gem dealer from Botswana -- his case in the Keys took dramatic turns and was never really what it looked like on the surface.

Early in the Keys

In early 2013, Pearl and his wife lost their jobs as managers of a Key Largo resort because they used bogus identifications when applying for the posts.

The owners of Gilbert's Resort thought Pearl was a man named Robert Trotter when they hired him and Tamara Asada to run the business in the summer of 2012. But by February 2013, the charade ended, in part because Pearl was a good manager and called the police one day to report graffiti.

The responding deputy thought his license didn't look right and discovered there was no Robert Trotter with the same birth date listed on Pearl's ID. He and Asada, who was also using the Trotter surname, were arrested, and court records from several states indicate the couple were involved in clever cons as they made their way eventually to the Keys.

Still, Pearl and Asada faced the equivalent charge of an underage college student coming down to the Keys with a fake license so he could buy beer.

But as the two waited in the Monroe County jail on respective $2,500 bonds, an IT contractor hired by Gilbert's found child pornography images on Pearl's computer he used when he worked there. He gave those images to the Sheriff's Office.

Asada pleaded guilty to the fake ID charge and was given a time-served sentence after spending a year in jail. She and Pearl divorced soon after she got out of jail.

Pearl, meanwhile, has been locked up ever since. He's been through multiple lawyers who've filed numerous of continuances that delayed trial. All the while, his case got increasingly more bizarre.

In February this year, investigators said they found 76 more lewd images of children on devices belonging to Pearl, resulting in 76 more counts of child pornography possession.

Then in March, Pearl helped the Sheriff's Office nab an allegedly dirty jail guard who cops say was caught in a sting trying to solicit $5,000 in bribes from him. Pearl reported the solicitation and helped set up a phony money drop that landed Deputy Zachary Reams, 26, in jail on charges of bribery and introducing contraband into jail.

Reams arranged to pick up an envelope, which was empty, from the office of Jiulio Margalli -- who was Pearl's most recent attorney before he hired Faccidomo and Ratzan, and who is running for State Attorney in November. Deputies and detectives were waiting for Reams outside Margalli's Key West office and arrested him on March 9.

Reams' arrest may have actually helped Pearl, not because Pearl cooperated with police but because it revealed major conflicts of interest internally among the Monroe County State Attorney's Office, forcing the case to be reassigned out of county in the 11th hour.

Not only is Margalli running against Vogel in November, Reams is the son of Vogel's administrative assistant Sylvia Reams.

The case was given to Donnorummo, who serves under Stephen B. Russell, state attorney for Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.

Vogel said that her office is also not working on Reams' prosecution.

"Due to Mr. Pearl being a witness against Zach Reams, who is the son of one our employees, as well as the involvement of Mr. Pearl's ex-lawyer, who is a candidate for state Attorney in these cases, we were forced to conflict on both the Reams and Pearl prosecution," Vogel said in an e-mail.

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