Politics | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

WCTV Update Exclusive: Complaint Filed Against Florida Congressman

There's a new complaint tonight against a Florida congressman.

As Eyewitness News first exclusively reported, Congressman Gus Bilirakis gave campaign funds to a group called the "Royal Order of Jesters" Tampa Chapter for dues and an event registration.

In a sworn federal document, the FBI says the Jesters parties or "books of the play" generally include prostitutes who perform commercial sex acts on members.

John Russell, one of the congressman's opponents in this fall's race, has now filed a complaint against Bilirakis with the Federal Elections Commission.

Senior Counsel Paul Ryan with the Washington D-C based "Campaign Legal Center" says Bilirakis will have to convince the FEC the campaign funds were for a political purpose.

Otherwise those payments would be illegal.

"Sounds like to me it would be a tough sell to convince me that this was a political organization," said Ryan. "Instead it sounds like a non-political organization," he said. "But the FEC would probably look pretty closely at this," Ryan said.

There's no evidence Bilirakis or the Tampa Chapter has engaged with prostitutes.

Nearly two weeks after first contacting the congressman's office, a spokeswoman sent a written response.

She says Bilirakis is an inactive Jesters member.

She also claims the campaign funds sent to the group are legal.


There's a new call for a Florida congressman to explain his association with a group tied to human trafficking and prostitution.

As we first reported in an Eyewitness News exclusive, Congressman Gus Bilirakis used campaign funds to pay a group called the "Royal Order of Jesters" Tampa Chapter for dues and an event registration.

In a sworn federal document, the FBI says the Jesters parties or "books of the play" generally include prostitutes who perform commercial sex acts with members.

"It's certainly a very serious concern to raise", said Florida Democractic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux. "I think he certainly needs to come clean immediately," he said.

There's no evidence Bilirakis or the Tampa Jesters Chapter has engaged with prostitutes.

We've repeatedly attempted to get comment from the Republican congressman.

So far, there's been no response.

We've also asked for comment from the Republican Party of Florida.

So far, there's been no response.


There's a new call tonight for the immediate resignation of a Florida congressman and his withdrawal from this fall's race.

Independent congressional candidate John Russell says Congressman Gus Bilirakis poses a national security risk due to his affiliation with a group tied to human trafficking and prostitution.

Russell's comments come following our exclusive Eyewitness News investigation showing Bilirakis used campaign funds to pay a group called "The Royal Order of Jesters."

"I'm calling for Congressman Gus Bilirakis to withdraw from this election and resign his congressional seat immediately," said Russell.

He made that comment at a candidate forum for Florida's 12th district in the Tampa area.

Congressman Bilirakis was the only candidate on the ballot missing at the forum.

As Eyewitness News has exclusively reported, in 2007, Bilirakis paid nearly 340 dollars to a group called the "Royal Order of Jesters" Tampa chapter for what's described as "event registration" from campaign funds.

The Jesters are an offshoot group of the Shriners.

In 2008, federal documents also show Bilirakis paid the Jesters twice from his campaign fund.

In each case, the purpose was listed as membership dues.

As we've also previously reported, a former tour operator is facing a lawsuit and criminal investigations in the U.S. and Brazil.

He's accused of soliciting under-aged prostitutes on fishing trips to Brazil, but denies the charges.

In a prior suit, he was accused of taking 19 jesters on one of those trips.

Also, three jesters were caught in a human trafficking sting for taking an undocumented illegal alien to be a sex slave at a Jester party.

While only a few Jesters have been successfully prosecuted, in one of those cases, the FBI stated the Jesters nationally engage in social gatherings known as "books of the play".

The sworn federal complaint says quote, "A typical feature of of a book of the play is the presence of prostitutes who engage in commerial sex acts with members."

"Representative Bilirakis' unique position as a U.S. representative sitting on the Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committee would potentially allow him to assist his Jester brothers engaging in these unlawful and despicable acts, presenting clear and present risk to national security," said Russell.

A leader of the Tampa Jesters chapter says he has no knowledge of members in his group engaging with prostitutes.

We've repeatedly reached out to the Bilirakis campaign for a response, including about Russell's call for the congressman to resign and drop out of the race.

To date, we haven't heard anything from the congressman or anyone affiliated with him.


October 16, 2012 - There's new evidence a Florida Congressman is affiliated with a group under fire for human trafficking and prostitution.

A WCTV exclusive investigation has found federal documents showing Congressman Gus Bilirakis used campaign money to pay membership dues and an event registration to a group called the "Royal Order of Jesters".

A campaign finance expert is on the fence about the legality of those payments.

Gus Bilirakis represents Florida's 9th Congressional District in the Tampa area.

According to federal documents filed by the Bilirakis campaign and exclusively obtained by Eyewitness News, in 2007 Bilirakis paid nearly 340 dollars to a group called the Royal Order of Jesters Tampa chapter for what's described as "event registration" from campaign funds.

In 2008 federal documents also show Bilirakis paid the Jesters twice from his campaign fund , once for 25 dollars and again for more than 780 dollars. In each case the purpose was listed as membership dues.

Senior Counsel Paul Ryan with the non-profit non-partisan Campaign Legal Center has worked in campaign finance law for more than a decade.

"The dividing line is, if it's for recreational purposes, it's personal use, it's off limits," Ryan said.

"If it's for professional purposes and political in nature, the organization and the membership dues, then it's allowable," he said.

So what is the Royal Order of Jesters?

Internet journalist Sandy Frost has been investigating this offshoot group of the Shriners for nearly 5 years.

"The jesters are generally made up of judges, people in law enforcement, sheriffs and people in power," Frost said.

According to an Indiana court document, there are 191 groups or courts in North America with nearly 21-thousand members.

Federal tax documents show 12 jester courts in Florida, second only to Texas for the highest number in any state.

Over the last several years, there have been major issues with jester groups around the country, but none of them have been tied to Congressman Bilirakis.

A former tour operator is facing a lawsuit and criminal investigations in both the U.S. and Brazil. He's accused of soliciting under-aged prostitutes on fishing trips to Brazil, but denies the charges.

In a prior suit, he was accused taking 19 jesters on one of those trips.

Also, 3 jesters were caught in a human trafficking sting for taking an undocumented illegal alien to be a sex slave at a jester party in Kentucky. Those jesters include a former New York state Supreme Court judge, his law clerk and a retired police captain.

While only a handful of jesters have been successfully prosecuted, in one of those cases, the FBI stated the jesters nationally have the motto "mirth is king" and engage in social gatherings known as "books of play".

The sworn federal complaint says quote, "a typical feature of a book of play is the presence of prostitutes who engage in commercial sex acts with members."

"Extremely serious stuff for a congressman to be involved in this group," said Frost.

We spoke with an officer of the Tampa Jesters Court who tells us he has no knowledge of members in his group engaging with prostitutes.

On the isue of Congressman Bilirakis' use of campaign funds for the Jesters, Ryan believes it's open to question under campaign finance law.

"This is an issue, that the Federal Election Commission, were a complaint to be filed against the Congressman, would probably take a pretty close look at," said Ryan.

We asked Ryan if he had an opinion about whether he thought the campaign funds spent were legal or illegal.

"This strikes me as a pretty close call," said Ryan.

Ryan says in instances like this one, the best path for a candidate is to ask the FEC for an advisory opinion.

In one example we found, federal records show then Congressman Mike Bilirakis, Gus' father, asked the FEC in 1999 for an opinion about using campaign funds for an event known as the "Kids First Family Fair".

The event was co-hosted with Gus who was then a state representative.

However, FEC records show now Congressman Gus Bilirakis has never asked the Federal Elections Commmission for an advisory opinion, including about his jester expenses.

"Generally, I think that elected officials are wise to steer clear of the type of controversy that results when you would use campaign funds to associate yourself with a group like this one, the Royal Order of Jesters," said Ryan.

Congressman Bilirakis has no ties to the out of state jester activities mentioned in this story.

We first contacted his Washington office on Tuesday morning, October 9.

We also sent an e-mail to the congressman's campaign manager requesting an explanation of the jester expenses.

To date, despite multiple follow ups, including the day our story aired on television, we've heard no comment from the Bilirakis Campaign or his office.


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