BURBANK — Prompting cries of injustice from one victim's mother, a prominent Burbank developer was given a plea bargain Tuesday in which he will receive a five-year prison term for paying four teen-age girls for sex since 1991.
The man's 82-year-old father, charged with paying one teen-age girl for sex, also struck a deal in which he will be given three years probation when the two are sentenced next month.
Michael A. Mersola, 56, and his father, Anthony Mersola, entered their pleas of no contest in Burbank Municipal Court, staring straight ahead and speaking almost inaudibly as several relatives in the audience wiped away tears.
Mersola, whose family owns an influential construction and development company, was convicted of pandering, or paying the minors for sex, and attempting to bribe three of them so they wouldn't testify against him if the case went to trial. His father was convicted of engaging in oral copulation with a minor.
Mersola, a Glendale resident, faced as much as 14 years in state prison had the case gone to trial. His father faced a maximum three years in prison.
Authorities said the settlement of the case was fair and just, and that it saved the young victims the trauma of having to testify about prostituting themselves for money.
The mother of one girl who is now 16 said the plea bargains were politically motivated to save the well-known family embarrassment at the expense of the victims.
"What kind of system do we have where people can get away with this?" she asked, standing outside the courtroom and crying. "It's not right. What happens to these kids? They're 16 years old. What do they do with their lives from now on?"
As for Mersola, she said, "he's not getting anything. It's a joke. And the father isn't even going to spend a day in jail."
None of the Mersola family members present made comments leaving the courtroom, and family lawyer Vincent Stefano Jr. left through a back door and did not return phone calls.
Municipal Judge Marion E. Gabler ordered Mersola held in custody pending his Sept. 8 sentencing, and ordered Mersola's father to register as a convicted sex offender with the police in his hometown of Burbank.
Mersola is expected to serve at least half of his sentence. He too must register as a convicted sex offender upon his release from prison.
Although his parole conditions have not been set, Burbank Police Detective Craig Varner said Mersola will be prevented from loitering outside high schools in search of girls--especially with binoculars. Mersola had been soliciting girls as young as 14 outside at least one Burbank high school and having ongoing sexual relationships with some of them in exchange for money, lodging at his family's vacant apartments, food, drugs or even clothing, authorities alleged.
Varner, a juvenile detail detective who investigated the case, dismissed complaints by some victims' parents that the Mersolas' influential positions in the community influenced the plea-bargain agreement.
"They're not buying their way out of anything," Varner said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Collier said Mersola's father was given probation, in part, because of his age. He added that Michael Mersola received "a very substantial sentence for this type of crime," even taking into consideration a sex-related offense he was convicted of in the early 1960s. Collier would not elaborate on that conviction.