by Mike Donoghue, Correspondent – also published earlier in the Caledonian-Record
BURLINGTON — A former senior producer for CNN television has been sentenced to almost 20 years in federal prison for his part in luring a Nevada woman and her adopted pre-teen daughter to Windsor County to have sadomasochistic sex with the girl.
John J. Griffin, 45, formerly of Stamford, Conn. also will be under federal supervised release once he completes his 19 ½ year prison term Senior Judge William K. Sessions III said in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Tuesday afternoon.
The one-time multi-millionaire was told a decision about the size of his fine and any restitution order imposed on him will be delayed until the federal court has a more complete picture of Griffin’s current and future financial worth, Sessions said. Griffin is eligible to have a fine assessed up to $250,000. Sessions did assess $5,100 in required court costs.
Sessions also did agree to allow $1,109,881 that Griffin has forfeited to the court to be used toward restitution. The money was generated from his half of selling his slope side Okemo Mountain home where the week-long sex crime happened. Also sold was a 2018 Mercedes Benz convertible that Griffin used to drive the adopted mother and child around Vermont, records show.
Griffin and the pre-teen victim are still awaiting word from a probate court in Connecticut on a proposed settlement in a multi-million civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the victim, according to her lawyer, Joel T. Faxon of New Haven, Conn.
Faxon, a Windham County native, attended the day-long sentencing along with his first boss, Thomas Costello, a longtime lawyer and state legislator from Brattleboro.
Both the girl and her grandmother, who has since adopted her, both addressed Sessions about the serious impact the trauma had on the victim and how it is likely to continue through her life.
The victim said she is now without friends, except for dogs and cats. She said she does not allow any hugs or touches even from her family. She said her grandmother told her, “I have to trust the court to do the right thing.”
As she sat at a large table at Faxon’s law office reading her statement, the victim said she worries Griffin will get out of jail and come after her.
The girl and the grandmother said the victim has attempted suicide twice.
The grandmother said life is difficult because it is hard to leave her daughter alone. The grandmother said her marriage has been ruined because of the steps she had to take to save her granddaughter. She said Faxon was the lone person that looked out for them.
Sessions thanked both for offering their comments to the court.
“I admire your courage, your strength,” Sessions told the victim. “You are a very courageous, smart accomplished person,” the judge told the victim
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Drescher had initially asked for a 30 year prison term in his sentencing memo.
Defense lawyer David V. Kirby had proposed a sentence closer to the mandatory 10-year minimum for the former TV man, who was leading a double life.
Griffin offered an apology to several people, including the victim.
“I am deeply remorseful,” he said. Griffin said the criminal case is the lowest point of his life.
He said his efforts to train mothers and their young children about sex went too far.
“People were no longer people. They became screen names,” he said.
Griffin, who became emotional and on the verge of crying, said his fascination with child sex impacted the victim who had “become an experiment.”
Kirby tried to show Griffin’s life came off the tracks due to his increased use of cocaine through the years, the stress at work, COVID and the loss of his mother in 2017. Kirby also highlighted a mental breakdown in May 2020 that lead Griffin to first be hospitalized initially at the Springfield Hospital near his seasonal home in Ludlow where he was living and commuting to New York for CNN. He was later treated in Connecticut.
Sessions said he was baffled by Griffin and his life’s choices and wondered how it happened. The judge noted Griffin had privilege growing up. He was a 1999 graduate from Princeton University and appeared to have a good job at CNN, where he worked from April 2013 to December 2021. It also looked like Griffin had respect in the community and profession, the judge said.
During the hearing it came out that Griffin had once reached out to Princeton to complain that he was not included by the university on a list of its most influential alumni. His letter was posted on the university website in January 2016.
The lone defense witness for Griffin was Psychologist Thomas Powell of Shelburne, who examined him in February and September 2022 for a total of eight hours. He said Griffin, who has been married three times, was isolated in Vermont in 2020 and 2021 and used a large quantity of cocaine, which he got from his Uber driver.
Powell said he also looked at files, did testing and tried to conduct collateral interviews with Griffin’s friends and associates, but many did not want to get involved in the criminal case. Powell said Griffin also had 90,000 images of pornography that involved adults, not children.
Kirby used Powell to show his testing reflected a low chance to sexually reoffend – possibly about a 3 percent chance.
Drescher noted Powell had left out of his final report one assessment that indicated that there was a 23 percent chance – nearly one in four — that Griffin would reoffend with a new sexual or violent incident. Kirby countered the issue was only about his sexual conduct.
Drescher also questioned why Powell never delved deeper when Griffin had said during an interview he was intrigued by what was not included in the charging documents in his criminal case.
Under questioning, Powell said he had been paid $5,000 for his work and was owed another $5,000. He said he gets $250 an hour.
As court recessed for two hours at lunchtime, Griffin turned toward the gallery and gave a big nod and smile to Powell.
Griffin could have received a possible life sentence in prison after pleading guilty to a felony sex charge in December 2022. He admitted to knowingly inducing a child under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity between June 14, 2020 and July 24, 2020. Court records show the adopted mother trained the girl on the sex acts and brought multiple types of whips, ropes and various sex toys with her to Vermont.
Griffin often bragged that he had worked “shoulder to shoulder” with now disgraced former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. CNN fired the high-profiled Cuomo in December 2020 after he was linked to trying to help his older brother Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo fight numerous sexual misconduct claims by multiple women.
Griffin admitted enticing the then-9-year-old girl and her adoptive mother to fly from Las Vegas to Boston in July 2020. Griffin picked them up in his red 2019 Tesla and drove them to his luxury home in Ludlow where he engaged in sex with the girl and mother during a weeklong stay, records show. The girl reported Griffin often took them out to eat at The Archery restaurant on Main Street in Ludlow, court records show.
After reviewing the federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, Sessions reached a range of 235 to 293 months and eventually went with the low end. He imposed numerous special conditions, including no contact with the victim. Also Griffin is to stay away from anybody under age 18 unless approved by the Probation Officer. He must pay for any treatment he undertakes and will be subject to lie detector tests.
Sessions agreed to recommend to the Federal Bureau of Prisons that Griffin serve his 235-month sentence at the prison in Danbury, Conn. so he can be close to family. Sessions also wants Griffin to undertaken a federal 500-hour drug rehab program in prison. In some cases the course can knock one year off a prison sentence.
Sessions said he hoped Griffin would use his education to help other inmates.
His sentencing in the high-profile coast-to-coast sex trafficking case was postponed multiple times as lawyers tried to iron out issues between the claims in federal, civil and divorce courts.
Kirby had maintained the proposed settlement in the civil lawsuit would have “a substantial effect on Mr. Griffin’s financial picture and on his ability to pay any fine the court may deem appropriate.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont had suggested Griffin was hiding assets, Kirby said. Kirby disputed that claim in court papers.
Yet, Sessions indicated Tuesday he did not have a clear picture of Griffin’s net worth. The financial records submitted to the court appeared to fail to include some trust funds that Griffin is benefitting from, or will receive upon his father’s death. His father, Jim Griffin, served as an agent for many big name media stars, news accounts show.
Drescher noted Griffin had received $750,000 in income from trusts last year. “There is a lot we don’t know.”
Griffin also inherited a “boatload of money” when his mother died, according to Powell.
Sessions expressed interest in knowing the amount of the proposed settlement in the civil lawsuit before imposing any fine and restitution.
Sessions said he believed he had a rough idea about the settlement, but the numbers don’t add up.”
Faxon said the settlement paperwork is under seal by a judge in Connecticut. He said if ordered, he would be required to tell Sessions, but the judge did not issue the order.
Besides the civil lawsuit, Griffin’s estranged wife filed for divorce in Stamford (Conn.) Superior Court one month after his arrest.
Allyson Griffin said in January 2022 she wanted custody of their then-9-year-old daughter and twin 6-year-old boys, records show. She also was fighting for much of their property including a $4.5 million home in Norwalk, Conn.
Allyson Griffin also has filed to intervene in the civil lawsuit in an effort to try to protect the assets that she is seeking in her divorce petition. She has maintained she was unaware of her estranged husband’s sexual behavior. They had been separated for about two years at the time, according to lawyers.
Meanwhile the adoptive mother, who brought the child to Vermont, has been sentenced to 8 to 20 years in prison in Nevada in connection with the sex case, news accounts note.
Newspapers reported the then-48-year-old Henderson, Nev. woman was arrested on two counts each of child abuse and sexual assault on a child under age 14, along with three counts of lewdness with a child under 14. Five of the Nevada charges were linked to the training Griffin and the adopted mother provided the girl before the trip to Vermont, records show.
The interstate case began to unfold because the 9-year-old’s biological mother, who is still in contact with her daughter, spotted some troubling text messages on the child’s cellphone, records show. The adoptive mother had contacted Henderson Police because of a custody dispute over the girl, records show.
The newspaper is not naming the adoptive mother or showing her mugshot because it would identify the sex crime victim.
There has been considerable national interest in the criminal case for several reasons including Griffin boasting after his arrest by the FBI that he was worth $35 million to $40 million, court records note.
The records also showed Griffin did not need a mortgage when he and his wife paid $1.8 million for their ski house in Ludlow, where the week-long sex getaway happened.
The 3-story Ludlow home next to a chairlift at the ski resort sold last summer for more than $2 million, according to federal court records. His share in the divorce, at least $1,002,000, was deposited with the federal court clerk’s office in Burlington.
Kirby has said he is not the only person having trouble getting a real handle on Griffin’s financial standing.
“Mr. Griffin has no access to this information. Indeed, even his divorce attorney cannot get financial information from the various institutions, which, at least in the past held assets,” Kirby wrote.
Griffin’s divorce lawyer had recently asserted he was getting little to no cooperation from the fund managers. Kirby said the divorce lawyer indicated the fund managers “were beyond uncooperative last time.”
Kirby said with any luck both the settlement and how it will be funded will be known in 3 or 4 weeks.
“As a result of complications with the finances, Mr. Griffin cannot properly fill out a financial affidavit as both Probation and his plea agreement require. We will not have a chance to rebut the government’s claim that he is hiding assets. Thus, we need the extension of time to properly respond” to the PSR on these issues.”
The government, after Griffin’s arrest, had maintained he had had deep pockets.
“He is a wealthy man who will be desperate to avoid facing justice. He has a history of mental illness and substance abuse and has recently consumed intoxicants,” Drescher said in his motion to detain Griffin.
The 2018 Mercedes Benz convertible also was sold recently and his share, about $48,000 was forfeited to the court for the time being.
Various computers, phones, cameras and videos also were seized from the defendant on Sept. 2, 2020 during a court-ordered search, according to the plea deal.
It remains unclear why the FBI waited over a year to arrest Griffin.
Griffin has been detained on the 3-count indictment since his arrest in December 2021 in New Haven, Conn. He is expected to get his detention time credited to his final sentence. Griffin most recently has been at the Cheshire County Jail in Keene, N.H.
The high-profile criminal case is one of the more secretive in federal court history in Vermont. More than two-dozen documents were filed under seal before Griffin’s indictment, which also was hidden until he was arrested. Some of the hidden documents are believed to be related to search warrants. Some of the sentencing memos filed recently by Kirby also are under seal.
The indictment noted Griffin in 2019 and 2020 communicated with people using various platforms, including one that described itself as a “BDSM dating, Fetish, and Kink Site. BDSM is an overlapping definition for Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Sadism, Masochism.
Under the plea agreement, Griffin will need to register as a convicted sex offender when released from prison. He also must seek sex offender evaluation and treatment, Sessions said.
According to the 13-page plea agreement, Griffin and a mother met on a website about sexual bondage during the summer of 2020 and by June they were communicating through the computer app known as Kik.
During various communications through Kik, text, phone and video chats, Griffin persuaded the Nevada woman to bring her 9-year-old adopted daughter to Vermont to engage in sex, the agreement noted.
Griffin sent the woman $2,000 in June 2020 and $1,350 in July 2020 to help cover the travel expenses for her and the child, records show.
There were at least two other attempted luring cases involving other people in April and June 2020 , according to the 3-count indictment.
Griffin previously worked at ABC News for 8 years. He also worked for about 3 years each with the Fox News Channel and CBS News, records show.
CNN said it suspended Griffin the day they learned about the arrest and fired him three days later when details of the lurid case became known.