(Update at the end.) I have a Fiend Folio in a trunk in my basement, along with hexagonal graph paper, 20-sided dice and pewter miniatures. I’m a recovering hard-core Dungeons & Dragons nerd.
This confession made, know that I follow the tribulations of Dragon*Con closely, which faces growing calls for a boycott because one of its founders and principal shareholders faces serious serial child molestation charges. But you don’t have to roll 20’s to find the political and economic threads of the case fascinating.
Ed Kramer has been able to delay trial in Gwinnett County since his initial arrest in August of 2000 on charges of molesting two teenage brothers during sleepovers at his house earlier that summer. Kramer has been using the proceeds from his one-third ownership stake in Dragon*Con to fuel his tortuous legal defense.
“This case has been called for trial no less than 12 times for trial and each time, Kramer has had a reason for delay all the while screaming about his speedy trial rights,” said Gwinnett County district attorney Danny Porter in an email.
Supposedly on house arrest for medical conditions, Kramer was nonetheless caught in a Connecticut hotel in September 2011 with a 14-year-old boy with whom he was apparently filming a horror movie, in violation of the no-contact terms of the court. Georgia extradited him in January.
Kramer has since filed more than 200 requests for accommodation of his physical handicaps and religious restrictions along with various grievances since his return to a Gwinnett County jail cell. Porter has pretty much had it and is arguing that Kramer’s medical condition isn’t legitimate – that he’s faking it to delay trial.
Horror writer Nancy Collins, who is spearheading the boycott, reminded me in a phone call Tuesday that one of Ed Kramer’s principal attorneys has been none other than Bob Barr, former congressman, current Republican candidate for the 11th district U.S. House seat currently occupied by Phil Gingrey, and semi-recovering libertarian. Barr and Kramer go way back. Barr has been working for Kramer since at least 2007. Meanwhile, Kramer has political roots in the science-fiction libertarian movement.
Collins told me she was obliquely referring to Barr’s role in Kramer’s defense when she made claims in a post on comic site The Beat that this case has dragged on for as long as it has because “someone relatively powerful in Georgia politics (is) pulling strings on his behalf behind the scenes.” She clarified in conversation with me that she doesn’t know if Barr himself made phone calls, but said it was suspicious, for example, that Kramer had been granted permission in 2006 to travel to Israel.
It’s an absurd allegation, of course. “Kramer’s trip to Israel was before Barr got involved,” Porter said. “The trip was allowed at Kramer’s attorney’s request to explore a possible disposition of the case, which involved a suspended prison sentence and emigration. This possibility was explored with the consent of the victims but fell through when Kramer was not prepared to admit his guilt, fired that attorney and filed motions claiming that I had tried to banish him from the United States and that we had denied his speedy trial rights.”
Hell, Kramer isn’t even Barr’s most controversial client — Baby Doc Duvalier takes the crown. But given the state’s culture of corruption, there’s an audience willing to believe an accusation like this on face value. That’s how corruption becomes a competitive issue — and I’m writing about this because I think this case represents a competitive threat to Atlanta’s growing media industry.
Sans boycott, Dragon*Con has all the potential to become Georgia’s equivalent to San Diego’s Comic-Con International: a must-stop event for Hollywood to gauge audience interest in upcoming billion-dollar blockbusters. As Georgia’s movie industry grows, Dragon*Con could begin to supplement Comic-Con as a taste-maker. That is, assuming the connection to Kramer’s sordid charges doesn’t continue to keep A-list celebrities from coming.
“I am not sure why anybody has a question about this,” said Don Murphy, producer of Transformers, said in an email. “The only question is, ‘Out of your $120 admission, how much goes to a child molester? How much is okay for you?’ That’s the only question. If you are okay with 25 cents of it going to a child molester, then I submit you have lost your moral compass.”
Still, it’s easy enough to question the effectiveness of a boycott. Everyone isn’t going to be on board in any case. Science-fiction writers are like cactus — prickly and resistant to harsh environments. “Yes, Kramer should be obliged to use his right to a speedy trial. Thirteen years, feh,” said Larry Niven of Ringworld fame, in an email. “Me, I’m committed as a guest. I’ll be at Dragon*Con regardless of any boycott.”
I know, I know. Business is business. Somehow guys like Roman Polanski still manage to get work. But Polanski’s charges don’t really affect Hollywood’s bottom line. Kramer’s charges are affecting Dragon*Con, and I think Dragon*Con influences the Atlanta film industry’s fortunes.
If we’re going to be doing self-congratulatory backflips over multimillion dollar studio construction deals in Norcross and Fayette County while debating the merits of hiring a chauffeur for Reese Witherspoon, then come to terms with the rest of it, too. Atlanta is Zombieland, folks. We can’t treat entertainment industry issues like background noise any more if Atlanta is to be taken seriously as an alternative to Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. Sci-fi stuff matters here.
“In my experienced opinion, if we went to Dragon-Con, Studio Foglio would make over $15,000. and that’s net, not gross,” Foglio wrote in a Facebook post about the decision. “But we’re not going. This decision is costing us, and we don’t care. … the Board of Directors has decided that they would rather send hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to a known, active pedophile. They are okay with that. They have made an active decision to keep on doing that.”
By most accounts, the board of directors of Dragon*Con are stuck. “Since Edward Kramer’s arrest in 2000, we have made multiple attempts to sever all ties between Edward Kramer and Dragon*Con including several efforts to buy Edward Kramer’s stock shares,” the board wrote. “Unfortunately, Edward Kramer’s response to our buyout efforts was repeated litigation against Dragon*Con … The idea proposed of dissolving the company and reincorporating has been thoroughly investigated and is not possible at this point. Legally, we can’t just take away his shares. We are unfortunately limited in our options and responses as we remain in active litigation.”
Dragon*Con has been fairly tight-lipped about all of this. Other than to note the most recent estimate of Dragon*Con’s economic impact from the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau — $42.3 million, based on last year’s attendance of 52,000 — the con’s flack, Rachel Reeves, had nothing to add when asked.
It seems that the easiest way to dislodge him – and to protect that economic benefit – would be to convict him. A judge could then force him to financially compensate his victims, which might require him to sell his shares.
I bring all this up because I fear that the treatment of the Kramer case symbolizes a broader problem Georgia’s political leaders may have adapting to the vicissitudes of a growing entertainment cluster. When the telecom industry says it needs some bit of legislation or some policy change, we see amendments on the ballot. The utility industry seems to find no difficulty parting rate payers from their wealth. Favorable rules for the airline industry aren’t elusive. And, yes, there’s a big tax credit for film and television production here.
But building an entertainment and media economic cluster is more complicated than building a tire factory or a power plant. The social, intellectual and legal climate matters. Whatever else Hollywood might be, it knows where its money is made. If there’s a threat to show business in Tinseltown, it’s not going to take 13 years to resolve in court.
When I moved to Atlanta, I had no idea I was in nerd Nirvana, with active comic shops, game studios and the famed White Wolf publishing house headquartered here. And I’d never been to a convention before Dragon*Con.
I’d like to go again.
I’m not suggesting that a judge should just railroad Kramer. He should be tried on the evidence. But I suggest, for the public good, that some sense of urgency for a resolution start to apply to the case. The nerds are watching.
In response to my
blatant fishing expedition reasoned speculation in the comments, Greg Euston, a Dragon*Con spokesman sent this reply by email.
“I’m actually the “flack” for Dragon*Con and was reading the comments this afternoon. Your story was great, and we appreciated the time you put into it. In the comments, however, you waded into speculation and you’re 100 percent dead wrong on some things.
Please make sure you include the following in your comments – Robert Costner was a volunteer director – meaning he lead a task-oriented team – and had no role in founding Dragon*Con and does not now, nor has he ever, owned a single share of the company’s stock. I checked with Pat Henry, the chairman, who recalls that Costner was a director for a few years in the early 1990s – a time when the convention had approximately 300 volunteers – and had some role with computers or IT.
Most importantly, the board of Dragon*Con is united in its belief that Ed Kramer is not innocent, and your speculation to the contrary is completely wrong. Moreover, the board of Dragon*Con – which consists of Pat Henry, David Cody and Robert Dennis – is working very hard to sever its ties to Kramer.
Kramer had complete access to Dragon*Con’s books during the three attempts to buy his shares in 2004, 2006 and 2008. The offers at that time were very fair. Management would be happy to re-open the books for him to review as part of the current litigation, but Kramer refuses to sign a confidentiality agreement.”