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Salaff Prelim Trial October 24th

Fred Salaff writes on his website: Our appeal for “amplification” of evidence (or lack of it) has been approved by the judge. She has sent back our case to the prosecutor once again to provide the evidence and testimony that we have requested. We don’t yet know if this will effect the October 24th date for the preliminary trial.

Salaff provides background of the case: Prior to January 23, 2005 and for approximately 3 years I had been producing adult video scenes for a handful of clients in the USA and Canada in order to supplement my income. After leaving Los Angeles where I worked as a photographer and director of documentaries, as well as adult videos, I moved to Panama to open a video chat room for Peekshows and to be closer to my wife who lives in Cuba. I met her there while working for UNESCO on various cultural photographic and video projects. Panama seemed really friendly and hospitable and the tropical climate really suited me. I had no inclination of the dreadful justice system which can reach out suddenly and grab anyone into its clutches. In this regard, I see Panama as a beautiful Venus Fly Trap; luring, seductive…then – Wham!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gotcha!

One of my clients was Devils Film of California. I had produced and directed video lines for them in the States and Panama. All of my production work in Panama was done out of view of prying eyes and I had no trouble with the law. I had even gone to the trouble of writing to the Ministry of Government and Justice in June, 2004 asking whether the production of “pornography” was legal in Panama. I did not use the term “adult film” because I did not want any ambiguity. The written answer came 3 months later and left nothing to the imagination and confirmed that there was nothing illegal in the production of pornography.

When I received word in November, 2004 from the production manager of Devils telling me that the owner, Mike Rubenstein wanted me to use European actors for the next Devil’s Panama production I was very hesitant because I would be dealing with an unknown factor. I didn’t know any of the actors, nor the director. Mike had said that the Panamanian men just didn’t “cut it” and that the “Euro” guys knew their stuff and would give great performances. Since I needed the money at the time I agreed to to the project. My role in this production was going to be limited to production and location manager; not producer or director. I was to hire the girl talent, get the medical testing done, secure location(s), hire make up, rental car, etc.

When the group of 5 people arrived at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport I took them to my house in Veracruz, which is about 25minutes from Panama City, right on the Pacific Ocean. I offered my large residence as a place to sleep as well as to shoot. The house is completely surrounded by a 10 foot concrete wall and the double entry iron gate is also completely covered by 2 large tarps.

The group consisted of Sebastian Pujos, (Tristan Seagal) the director, from France. His girlfriend, Eliska Kocurova (also known as porn actress, Sarah Twain) from the Czech Republic, came along not to act, but to keep Sebastian company and to help with “styling and posing.” The camera guy, Vit Velisek, was also Czech. The 3 actors were: Jorge Jopke (JAY JAY) from Germany, Yannick Dambrinne (IAN SCOTT) from France, and Patrik Jabka (WEIN LEWIS) from the Czech Republic.

Stefano Simone, my friend of a few years, was from Italy and had been in and out of Panama over a period of three years. He often helped me with translations from Spanish to English in whatever work or activity I was doing. On several occasions, Stefano accompanied me to Cuba where we were working on a documentary video about Cuban music.

The final “player” in the cast of this story is a friend of ours, Clara Garcia, a 30 year old resident of Veracruz, who used to come cook a few meals for Stefano and me when we were editing projects. She never knew that there was any adult video production work going on in my house and was never involved in any way.

When production started several days before the arrest the actors and Eliska looked for activities to do in Veracruz. This was whenever they were not needed in front of or near the camera. Eliska asked one of us to arrange for horseback riding and the actors jogged around the town and along the beach. However, they were usually scantily clad and a policeman brought one of the actors back to the house and told me to tell him to put a shirt on while in public. This was Panama, Latin America, after all. Eliska wore a halter top while riding and a large group of young kids used to follow her around the beach and in the town. She cut a striking figure; tall, sexy, rather pretty and elegant…..something not seen too often in the dusty pueblo by the sea.

Production went well but a few times I asked Sebastian to keep the moans and groans of the actresses down because the neighbors might hear and get pissed off. I was absolutely sure that no one could see over the walls so I was not concerned by any “peeping toms” of any age. In fact, I had hired a local off duty policeman to patrol the perimeter of my house to keep people away. After the first day this officer in uniform told us that he would not continue because the local kids were throwing stones at him. He was paid off and I found a private security company to come and do the safe-guarding of the house.

Pujos told me, when I cautioned him about the noise factor told me, in no uncertain terms, that he knew his business and that he was hired to produce “hot stuff” for Mike and he would do whatever he needed to do.

On that Sunday, January 23rd, after shooting 2 scenes with a model from Chiriqui Province the male actors were relaxing, the house was being re-organized for the next day when a large group of police showed up outside my gates. The model was already on her way back home when I went outside to greet them and showed them into my little office.

The group was led by the “Corregidor” (an official one step above the mayor and a legal authority in his own right) who confronted me and told me what I was doing was illegal. Presuming he meant the production of an adult video I proceeded to show him the letter I received from the Ministry of Government and Justice. He was rather surprised upon reading the letter and backed off considerably in his originally aggressive tone. It appeared that he was quite reasonable and most likely had been misinformed. He made a half-hearted attempt at harassing me by saying that I needed a license to produce videos in Panama and that I needed medical tests and a company and and and….. Well, of course, I had all this ready to show him.

I pulled my company license from my filing cabinet, the aids tests, and the license to shoot film and video. This guy then stepped aside and a National Police Major, Erik Estrada jumps in a says that something illegal must be going on and we should all be arrested! There were no underage people in my house, no drugs, nothing illicit at all. The arrest warrant which was shown to me stated that my house was to be searched for guns and fugitives! Incredible! Well, when Estrada saw that he was going to strike out and find nothing he made a few phone calls and ended up forging a new arrest warrant! My lawyer had shown up in the meantime and demanded to be present during questioning and searching but was illegally thrown out by Estrada!

There was considerable confusion in my house which was occupied by a multitude of officers from the PTJ and the DIIP (various agencies of the police). The only sane person was the Corregidor who suggested to Estrada that why not just take the camera and cassettes used that day to the police station and view the contents to see if any laws were violated. However, Estrada was determined to arrest us.

When Clara Garcia came to cook Stefano and me a meal that evening she saw the police vehicles in front of my gates. She asked a cop what was going on inside and the cop asked her, instead, what she was doing at my house. She replied, innocently that she came to cook. She was promptly added to our group of “suspects.”

After about 3 hours in my house the cops brought is to a police station in Diablo. This is in the former Canal Zone area which the US formerly left in 1999. We spent the night sitting in chairs in the police station and were given no food. In the morning we were allowed to sleep on the floor of a conference room and allowed to BUY food from a kiosk outside, one by one.

We tried to make phone calls to family, lawyers, friends, but found it very difficult to use the public pay phone. We were not allowed to use a phone inside the station. Up to this point we were never put in handcuffs and we thought this nightmare would end very soon because it was so unreal. Here we were, law abiding citizens, not doing anything illicit and being held incommunicado without seeing a judge or being read our rights. We did not know of the charges against us!

During the afternoon of the second day of our arrest we were all transported to the Ancon police station and put in the holding pens. The guys were separated from the 2 women. These holding pens were our first shock of what it is to be a prisoner in Panama. Myself and the 6 other guys were put into a tiny room that was about 40 square feet. There was absolutely nothing in this room; just a cement floor and no window. The iron bars in the door let cold air in during the night. We begged the guards for cardboard to put on the floor to keep the cold to a minimum and to put on the door to the cell. At night we had to yell to the guards to let us use one of the 2 commodes to urinate or defecate. There were about 7 such holding cells and all prisoners were treated with an equal and total lack of human rights. We arrived at the prison with what we were wearing the night of the arrest.

In Panama you are not given ANYTHING when you arrive at a jail…no toothbrush, no toothpaste, no towel, washcloth, toilet paper, clothes, no dignity….NOTHING!!!! You are not given medicine if you need it, you are not allowed to make phone calls. You CAN bribe the guards to do almost anything if you have money. We had no money with us. We were all rather new to being arrested and had taken no classes in Panamanian justice. We all had NOT made any plans for what to do if we were ever arrested. We all lived our lives according to the law. Not one of us had ever had a problem with the law in any country. So we were just not good and well prepared prisoners. We rebelled, we got very angry, we fought with each other. The actors and Sebastian blamed me, naturally, for getting them into this mess. I understood their frustration and anger, but I don’t think they understood that I was equally blameless and innocent. And what about poor Stefano Simone? He was totally and completely blameless and innocent of anything to do with this situation. He was and still is my good friend who only tried to assist me with my language problem.

Food was a big problem for us in the tiny cell. There was no safe running water and what we ate consisted of some rice and little else. It was horrible and really inedible. We were not given any eating utensils and had to form a spoon out of the tin foil that came with the rice. Sometimes there was a sausage with the rice and sometimes there was a small empanada (a sort of meat filled pastry), but this was not exactly haute cuisine and was greasy and sickening. Since we were not eating very much at all we staged a hunger strike and posted a cardboard sign outside our cell. Little good it did because no one saw it from the outside and the guards could care less. However, we were marked as trouble- makers.

The situation was not clear yet regarding the lawyers in the case. After a few days we found out that Carlos Carillo, one of the most influential (and expensive) lawyers in Panama had been hired by Devils Films. However, his representation was limited to only to the Europeans (except Stefano). I had no idea why Rubenstien and Devils abandoned me. I was really pissed, needless to say. My own lawyer, Eugenio Morice told me he needed money urgently to get us out but said he would represent me and Stefano no matter what. I asked Eugenio to contact Mike and I was sure that Mike would not let me down and would cover my ass. In another small way, I knew that Mike, being Jewish would never let a fellow Jew drown.

It is a common perception in Panama that all “gringos” and foreigners have money. It seems to them a double crime to be arrested and have the nerve NOT to have money! How can this be? Someone must be lying when he says he has no money for a defense!

During the first few days of incarceration I kept asking to see someone, anyone, from the United States Embassy! I wanted to wave the flag and get some answers and maybe some reassurance. I did receive a visit from a very kind and gentle person who made me feel like I had a chance to survive my ordeal. His name is Richard O’Shea. He quietly informed me (we were not permitted to be alone and had a Panamanian police guard in the small room given to us for the meeting) that the Embassy could not get involved in the legal aspects of the case but could render human assistance. By this he meant he could and would contact whomever I needed to contact. He asked me if I needed necessities, money, and medicine. I felt that the great power of the USA was in this room with me and I will never forget this feeling. I carried the knowledge through the darkest days that followed that somehow, my government would know that I was innocent of any charges to be brought against me (I still didn’t have a clue as to what the hell was going on)! I also knew that I could count on help from Richard and his colleagues. One of the simplest gifts Richard gave me was a big pile of good books to read!

My friends, Carlos and Chris were also very active at this time behind the scenes. Carlos, a Panamanian, did all he could to organize my personal life. He took charge of contacting my wife, organizing my computer projects, and together with Chris organized my medical requirements.

On the 3rd day I was brought back to my house in chains to face an investigator who, in front of television cameras and the large number of media people gathered there, read me a new charge against me alone. This was a charge of rape at gunpoint! My knees buckled and I almost fainted upon hearing thie, especially when this woman, always religiously fingering a rosary, told me that she was going to “put me away” for a long, long time!

What followed was a day long search and seizure of almost everything I owned in my house. In fact, this had to be repeated the next day because it took 2 bus loads to haul away my computers, cameras, lights, tripods, monitors, filing cabinets, costumes, videos, mini dv’s, magazines, dvd’s, and computer programs.

On the 5th day of our arrest we were brought before typists in the prosecutor’s offices in order to give statements. (Translators had to be found for all except Clara Garcia and it wasn’t easy to find a qualified Czech translator in Panama)! When we were in our miserable holding pen Pujos begged me to tell the authorities that it was my idea to hire everyone to make the video at my house. He said that it would help get everyone else out of jail and that when they all got out they would help me with Mike, go to the World Court in Europe, and tell the world press about the injustice in Panama and our miserable situation. A lot of pressure was put on me because Pujos and the actors were now convinced that we were all in jail because of the additional charge against me.

This rape charge was a vicious lie by a former model of mine who felt embarrassed by her appearance on the internet in very sexy poses. She was over 18 (and throughout all the proceedings in my case all models were found to be over 18 years of age. The question of minors in my production has never been an issue) and she had signed the standard contract. Later, when she was asked why it took her more than a year to make the charge against me (that’s when the internet pictures appeared) she replied that she had been traumatized by the experience.

When I finally learned the exact nature of her charge I was suffering for months in the inferno of the jail known as La Joyita. It turned out that she made an incredible claim that I got her drunk, took her someplace where I got a gun, got marihuana at another location, then cocaine at yet another and then forced an actor to have sex with her while forcing another photographer to take pictures of this scene. Until I read this charge I thought she actually claimed that I had forced her to have sex with me while I was holding a gun to her! The police actually viewed the scene in which she appeared and told the investigator that it seemed that she had a good time and no rape had occurred. They also claimed she was a prostitute and had an “extended vagina,” when examined more than a year after the “incident.” This case was dropped many months ago.

Someone urged her to make an appeal (her father is a retired high level policeman) and a new charge was added – pimping! She claimed that if the police thought she was a prostitute, then “Fred Salaff was my pimp.” There was a new prosecutor in the case and she also asked this model what took her so long to make an appeal (she was out of the time period allowed to file a complaint) she claimed she had been in the hospital for 4 months with psychological problems. After excellent digging, my lawyer, Eugenio Morice, discovered from hospital records, that she had been trying to seduce the male patients and was forced to leave the hospital after only 4 days! This discovery led to the dismissal of this ridiculous but malicious charge once and for all. The work of my lawyer, Morice has been top notch all throughout my case. He is a rare breed, especially for Panama.

Back to Pujos and crew in the holding pen. Pujos tried to make me accept total responsibility because he could not bear having his girl friend Eliska in jail for nothing. I accepted this arrangement because all the guys said that if and when they got out they would help my wife in Cuba by sending her money. (As of this date not one of those guys kept their word). I was really upset about the rape charge and indignant that Pujos and his crew would believe that I was guilty and that because of this charge they were all going down the tubes. But I figured that since the situation looked really bad for me I would in fact, make up a story to help get these guys out.

At the “declaration” I told the secretary that I met the guys at the airport as they were arriving for a “vacation” and convinced them to make video scenes. I even had to go so far to say that I was the producer and that Pujos, his girl friend and the camera guy had nothing at all to do with anything. The declarations for everyone ended about 10:30 pm that night. At 2:30, about 3 hours later, the cell door was opened by a guard and Pujos, and Vit were taken away and freed. Eliska and Clara Garcia were also freed. This was 2:30 in the morning! No one is let go at that hour!

From an email that Pujos sent to Carlos when he returned to Europe Pujos told Carlos that he knows that Carlos Carillo received $25,000 the first week of our arrest and $25,000 the next. It has been suggested that before his declaration Pujos spoke to Rubenstein and told Mike of the rape charge against me. Most people tell me that’s the reason why Mike abandoned me. He never took my calls nor any of his people. He therefore could not possibly know my side of the story and it seemed that he could care less. I do know that Mike tries to shy away from adverse publicity. But the big question remains, MIKE RUBENSTEIN, WHERE ARE YOU AND WHY HAVE YOU REFUSED TO TALK TO ME AND HELP ME! I HAVE DONE NOTHING TO DESERVE YOUR STONEWALLING.

Not long after our declarations and the freedom for the 2 women, Pujos and Vit, the rest of us were transferred to one of the worst prisons in the world – La Joyita, which means in Spanish, “The Little Jewel.” We were transferred in chains, hands behind our backs and our feet shackled – in a rickety bus for 1 hour outside of Panama City. The prison is a maximum security jail.

We finally found out what the charge against was and still is (against me and Stefano Simone): Corruption of Minors! This is because curious youngsters climbed my neighbor’s trees, hid quite well, and watched an adult scene being made. The prosecutor says that I should have known that my 10 foot wall was not high enough to prevent prying eyes! My lawyer correctly asks “how high is high enough?”

There was a male resident of Veracruz who accompanied the kids into the trees and took video footage of the scene being shot! He violated the rights of my privacy and was clearly corrupting the minors because he knew exactly what was going on! However, due to the vagaries of Panamanian law, both he and the parent so the kids are not the ones in jail. Incidentally, this man and the kids hid so well that my hired security just did not see them!

A few days after our arrest, the Corregidor, Modesto Alvarez, wrote a letter to the Mayor of Arraijan (the administrative city for Veracruz) in which he denounced the illegal arrest arranged by Major Erik Estrada. Alvarez did something very unusual for a Panamanian. He did the right thing! He did it with fervor and eloquence and with the knowledge that he was going to ruffle the feathers of Estrada, the National Police and other forces in the country. He could have lost his job. Fortunately, this never happened. Despite this now famous letter showing proof that the arrest warrant was forged and altered we were not released! In any other sane country in the world the case would have been thrown out immediately.

 

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