A friend of Jesse Phinney has cast doubt on claims that he committed suicide while detained on suspicion of exploiting children – an allegation he also rejects.
The long-term resident in the Philippines, who asked not to be identified, contacted PLN to express his disbelief at both the allegations against his friend, and also his supposed suicide.
On Wednesday (December 6) we reported how the Hollywood cameraman reportedly hanged himself in his cell after being arrested on suspicion of child abuse in Cebu.
The 42-year-old was taken into custody by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) after a raid on his apartment in Talisay City.
According to officers, an eight-year-old girl was rescued and high-end camera equipment and production lighting were seized, along with children’s clothing and toys. He was suspected of violating the Anti-Trafficking of Persons Act and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act (Republic Act 7610).
NBI director Patricio Bernales reported that Jesse Phinney had cooperated with officers and — in the absence of any concrete evidence against him — would have been eligible to post bail the following morning. For this reason, he said, they had breached protocol by allowing him to keep his belt.
However, early the next morning a security guard discovered he had used it to hang himself.
Jesse Phinney never wore belts
His friend — let’s call him ‘Fred’ for convenience — said there was another glaring hole in this story. “Jesse didn’t ever wear belts,” he said. “He was a sloppy-go-lucky multi-millionaire — he never had to work again.”
Fred, who has himself faced down trumped-up accusations in the past, believes his friend was the victim of a set-up. “The guy had a ton of money,” he said. “Maybe it was a set-up by the girlfriend?
“Or perhaps a local boyfriend or the girls’ fathers thought they could be in line for a big pay-off?
“We all think it was a set-up gone wrong. A roughing up gone too far. Maybe when they realised he knew the President of the United States, they freaked out.”
Among Jesse’s numerous TV credits was as a cameraman for Donald Trump’s The Apprentice USA.
Fred also took issue with the implication by the NBI that his photography equipment was grounds for suspicion that he was producing child pornography. “He was continuing to relocate his things from the USA and Nicaragua, to set up in Cebu,” he said.
“That’s why there were a lot of trips back and forth bringing his equipment over here. He was a cameraman, it was his job, and he was also a gadget addict.”
However, Fred did concede that Jesse’s living arrangements were certain to attract suspicion. “Jesse had five girls aged eight to 15 living with him.” He added that the eight-year-old, who was taken into protective custody, was his girlfriend’s daughter, and the others were cousins and a neighbour’s daughter.
“The family and all his friends are saying he was a big-hearted man,” he said. “It was like him to open his house to the neighbours and adopt the kids and help them with school and stuff.
“They say he never took pictures or did anything else to them.”
The letter of the law
Under Philippine law — Republic Act 7610 — it is illegal for “any person who shall keep or have in his company a minor, 12 years or younger or who is 10 years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach and/or other tourist resort or similar place unless there are family ties or some other legal bond or obligation involved.”
Fred said: “I think he was naive about what trouble spoiling his girlfriend’s kids and cousins could get him into. Like taking them all to the beach can quickly result in a tip-off and a raid for trafficking.
“And having what looks like a ‘stable’ of minors living in your house will get you brought in for sure.”
However, he was adamant in his belief that Jesse had no sinister motives towards the youngsters. “Jesse never betrayed any creepiness — he never suggested we head to the bars for chicks after dinner, or anything like that.
“I think he wanted to be a family man and wanted to take care of some kids.”
Fred’s opinion of Jesse are closely aligned with several comments left under our original story by other friends.
A message left by ‘Karen’ read: “He was giving and wanted to help the people he met. He would never harm anyone.”
‘Brett’ agreed, writing: “Jesse was a documentary filmmaker who cared deeply for the communities he documented. He was a kind, loving person who would not harm anyone. Especially children.”
A comment by ‘Christie’ continued the theme: “I have known Jesse since he was a child and recently saw him. The reports of trafficking are false!!! He was a kind and loving man with a supportive family and community.”
PLN understands that friends and supporters in the USA are urging the FBI and State Department to investigate the case. Fred also said that Jesse’s family were assembling a team of lawyers and preparing for a fact-finding mission to the Philippines.
In his original statement, NBI director Bernales said the photographs of children found on Jesse’s phone were entirely innocent. He added that he was awaiting a warrant to examine his other recording equipment. No further statements on the case of Jesse Phinney have been issued.