Sex, lies and expired videotape

Local real estate mogul’s voyeurism inspires new legislation

Disgraced real-estate mogul Michael Lyon may yet leave a legacy most sex-tape celebrities wouldn’t even fathom.

Inspired by two decades’ worth of privacy-skirting videotapes authorities were unable to prosecute Lyon for creating, a state Assembly member recently introduced a bill that could make voyeurs reconsider their secret video libraries.

Assembly Bill 708 would alter the statute of limitations for the illegal use of hidden cameras from the date of the crime to one year after the date of discovery. Republican Steve Knight says his “minor amendment” to the Penal Code would give prosecutors a better chance at stopping “predators [who] are operating for years before their activities are discovered.”

The measure passed out of the Public Safety Committee last week with a unanimous 7-0 vote.

Under current law, authorities can’t prosecute anyone for recordings that are three years or older. In Lyon’s case, that meant the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office could only charge him with four felony counts related to multiple sexual encounters Lyon filmed with four escorts at residences in Carmichael and Roseville.

Lyon pled guilty on March 14 in exchange for a suspended two-year jail term, a recommended sentence of probation and one year in county jail or under house arrest in Carmichael.

Besides the crimes Lyon admitted, which occurred between October 2008 and September 2010, the district attorney’s sentencing statement outlined a sordid, if statutorily elapsed, history of secretly filming friends and acquaintances for the past 20 years.

Among the footage investigators uncovered were two separate videos of former baby sitters taking showers in Lyon’s Lake Tahoe home and a nude video of one of Lyon’s son’s former friends, then 18.

“He has privately engaged in a pernicious pattern of video voyeurism,” read a written statement signed by District Attorney Jan Scully and Deputy District Attorney Robert H. Gold, who prosecuted the case, “perpetrated for more than 20 years against friends, acquaintances and recently women he has hired for acts of prostitution.”

The crimes for which Lyon was charged could have resulted in a maximum of four years of prison time and $10,000 in fines.

District attorney spokeswoman Shelly Orio indicated that, had they gone to trial, the results wouldn’t be a slam dunk, even with the video evidence.

“It must be kept in mind that the offense can be charged or sentenced as either a felony or a misdemeanor,” she said. “At a final sentencing hearing after trial, a judge would have the power to make this case a misdemeanor, even over the DA’s objection.”

Orio pointed out that the negotiated sentence guaranteed both a felony conviction and also a substantial period of incarceration.

“Under the circumstances, we felt it unlikely that Mr. Lyon would have received a state prison sentence even if the case had gone to trial and he had been convicted of all charges,” she explained.

This evidently didn’t sit well with Assemblyman Knight, who cited Lyon’s case, and also Sacramento district attorney Scully, who supported Knight’s bill during last week’s committee meeting and in multiple press releases, as motivation.

Meanwhile, the man who inspired it all is still waiting to hear where he’ll spend the next year of his life. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has the final say whether that’s in jail or at his Carmichael home.

Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos said Jones was “contemplating” his decision.

“He wants to ensure that he has considered and taken into account all relative factors,” Ramos said. “Suffice it to say that he knows there is significant media interest in what his decision will be.”

Maybe not as much intrigue as there was in Paris Hilton’s One Night in Paris tape. But significant for Sacramento.