PASADENA, Calif. — An attorney representing Jarec Wentworth asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday to acquit, order a new trial or vacate the former gay adult star’s sentence.
Wentworth was sentenced in 2015 to five years and 10 months in prison after he was convicted on six counts of extorting Donald Burns, a multimillionaire Magic Jack VocalTec exec who admittedly had a penchant for sexual affairs with gay porn stars. All told, Wentworth attempted to extort $1.5 million from Burns.
A video of yesterday's proceeding can be viewed here.
In the appeal, Wentworth’s attorney, Ethan Balogh, argued that the government had failed to prove that Wentworth had committed extortion with a tweet that read, “How many porn stars know a man named Don? Yes Don.”
Instead, Balogh said Burns had offered to simply pay Wentworth to remove the post in exchange for a sports car and $500,000. Later, Wentworth asked for an additional $1 million.
Burns testified during the trial in Los Angeles federal court that he had feared the tweet would harm his reputation if the post was disseminated more widely on the internet.
Later, in another tweet, Wentworth wrote: “I can bring your house down Don. This was a simple conversation and you throw this shit out on me. Don’t get me mad. I do have Twitter and your photos. Lies can be made or maybe it’s the truth. Just saying. Have a good day.”
In an additional tweet, he said: “You promised me you would Let me drive the [Audi] R8. Cars are my life you know that…. I’m feeling evil right now. Disappointed.”
Wentworth’s attorney argued that fear of a damaged reputation was not enough to support the government’s charge of extortion under the Hobbs Act, which prohibits such acts affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
Burns “was afraid of others joining the conversation, others retweeting it, others favoriting it, things getting out of hand,” Balogh said
“No court to date has validated the government’s theory in this case, that reputational harm is enough, that fear of damage to reputational harm would support a Hobbs Act prosecution,” Balogh said.
All Wentworth did was identify “what’s likely to occur, what could occur. [H]e got paid all that money and took that car to take down a tweet. And that is lawful,” Balogh said.
“This guy had genuine fear. A captain of industry flying prostitutes around to orgies on a plane interstate. That’s some bad news,” Balogh said.
Eddie Jauregui, an assistant U.S. Attorney who seeks to deny Wentworth a retrial, argued that extortion under the Hobbs Act was not limited to fear of physical injury or economic harm as Balogh asserted.
“Balogh is right that there is no case holding specifically that threat to reputation is encompassed by the Hobbs Act. But, of course, there have been numerous cases including in [the 9th Circuit] where threats were not having to do with economic injury or property,” Jauregui said.
The federal prosecutor told the panel — comprising Judges Alex Kozinski, Stephen Reinhardt and Terrence Berg — that it’s not right or fair to focus on one tweet.
Jauregui said there was enough evidence for the Los Angeles jury to conclude that Wentworth had induced Burns to pay the $500,000 and give him the sports car and that would amount to extortion.
If the 9th Circuit panel pares the Hobbs Act extortion charge, Wentworth would still have two other felony charges that would still keep him in prison for several years.
In July 2015, a jury found Wentworth of making criminal threats, extortion, receiving the proceeds of extortion, and using an interstate facility for unlawful activity.
During the trial, jurors heard how Burns had flown performers — mostly Sean Cody models — to his Orange County, Nantucket and Palm Beach residences for group sex and then sent them home with wads of cash.
Currently, Wentworth is being housed at the federal prison in Victorville, Calif.
Pictured: Jarec Wentworth in file photo