Michael Lyon was sentenced Friday to more than six years in prison for secretly filming the women he paid for sex, concluding the fall of a man whose name for decades was all but synonymous with home ownership in Sacramento.
Lyon, 62, the local real estate titan who once lent his name and cash to good works across the region, was sentenced to six years and four months in state prison in Sacramento Superior Court on charges of electronic eavesdropping and videotaping connected to the sex tapes filmed in 2013 and 2014.
The women had no idea they were being videotaped until they were contacted by Sacramento district attorney's investigators in 2015 and never would have agreed had they known, prosecutors argued.
Video excerpts played at trial showed Lyon adjusting and hiding video recording equipment and lighting in his bedroom-turned-secret soundstage.
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"We watched all these recordings in trial," Sacramento Superior Court Judge Robert Twiss said during sentencing. "There were hours after hours after hours after hours of them. They were accompanied by mind-numbing music."
Lyon’s fall from grace is one of the more remarkable ones in Sacramento history.
He once headed the largest real estate firm in the region, along with a number of other companies, and was a philanthropic mainstay for charity groups ranging from the UC Davis Children’s Hospital to Loaves and Fishes.
He served as a Boy Scout troop leader in the Carmichael area, where he helped the children of some of Sacramento’s most prominent business and legal leaders navigate their way through camping trips, knot-tying exercises and merit badge requirements.
But he could never control his decades-old compulsion to secretly videotape acquaintances, friends and employees in his homes, something his then-wife described to investigators as the “camera thing.”
Before his jury trial, Lyon made numerous court appearances as prosecutors and his defense attorney tried to hammer out a plea agreement, and there were discussions of a deal that would have netted him much less time in custody than the sentence he now faces.
But Lyon would never agree to take a deal, gambling instead that he could avoid prison with an energetic defense that included the notion that the prostitutes he taped had no expectation of privacy.
Twiss rejected that argument Friday, and made it clear that he did not believe Lyon was remotely repentant.
“The defendant clearly was on notice that it was unlawful,” Twiss said, but showed “a blatant disregard for the conditions of his probation.”
Twiss’ assessment of Lyon from the bench was withering: a rich, unrepentant repeat offender who thought his wealth shielded his wrongdoing.
“He is unapologetic," Twiss said. "He has an extremely high lack of potential for rehabilitation. He believes because he is rich that he can do whatever he wants. He refuses to accept that he’s a felon.”
It was the final verdict for a seamy drug- and sex-soaked double life that played out for jurors in hours upon hours of encounters with prostitutes captured on videotape, mere years after he was convicted in Sacramento Superior Court in 2011 of secretly filming and recording his interactions with women.
Lyon pleaded guilty in March 2011 to four counts of electronic eavesdropping and later agreed to pay millions in damages to those who claimed they were secretly recorded in the bedrooms and bathrooms of his homes. His settlements included a 2012 payout of $2.5 million to former nannies, baby sitters and family friends who said he had used cameras hidden in bathrooms, bedrooms and showers to record them.
Little more than three years later on Oct. 1, 2014, authorities raided Lyon’s home finding the computers, flash drives and video after video that led him back to a Sacramento courtroom on yet more charges of video voyeurism.
“The defendant doesn’t get it,” Twiss said Friday in rejecting Lyon attorney Linda Parisi’s plea to allow Lyon to post bail. “He did the exact same thing.”
“It is what it is,” a dejected Lyon told The Bee in the courthouse hallway before he was sentenced but after the judge had rejected his request for a new trial.
Lyon was the subject of an FBI probe that began in 2009, and FBI documents reviewed by The Bee indicated his secret taping went as far back as 1992, when a newly married couple visited Lyon’s home for a Fourth of July celebration.
The couple was showering in the guest bathroom of the home when the husband noticed a hole in the shower ceiling, then spotted a camera lens, according to the documents, which were reviewed by The Bee.
The couple confronted Lyon, who apologized and gave them the videotape of the shower, and they left, the documents say.
Lyon was never prosecuted by federal authorities despite the FBI probe because of statute of limitations and evidence issues. But then-District Attorney Jan Scully took up the case at the urging of family members of victims.
After his guilty plea in 2011, Lyon was sentenced to two years in state prison for that conviction, but Sacramento Superior Court Judge Gary Ransom suspended the sentence, allowing him to serve nearly a year in the county jail and on home detention.
Ransom’s decision came at the time with a stern warning not to re-offend.
“I can’t stress this enough, partner,” Ransom told him. “If you do it, I’m going to send you to prison.”
On Friday, Twiss did, despite Parisi’s plea for a wide-ranging alternative to prison – a sentencing quilt of probation, electronic monitoring, rehabilitation, counseling, volunteering and jail time.
At trial, Parisi had argued the prostitutes had no reasonable expectation of privacy to hide their criminal conduct; that their sex with Lyon was consensual and that they claimed they were victims of Lyon’s private filming only after prosecutors cut deals with them in order to target Lyon.
“We are all more than the sum of our negative acts,” Parisi said, noting Lyon’s years of local philanthropy and civic good deeds.
“He spent a lifetime achieving his status and position and he’s responded by giving back to his community. When you look at the balance of his life, he’s a good man. Prison isn’t the answer. The court has the wisdom and the courage to temper his sentence with mercy.”
But prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Mike Kane said Lyon was overdue for a prison term, saying a decades-long obsession with video voyeurism ultimately led Lyon to his day in court.
“It’s a constant thing he does," Kane said. "He’s been secretly recording people for 20 years now. He’s paid out millions of dollars. This has been going on for a long time. He’s been leading a double life at best.”
At the end of the nearly three-hour court session, it was apparent Lyon had been prepared to be taken into custody.
After the sentence was pronounced and the courtroom was cleared of the audience, he was handcuffed and seated at the defense table while a sheriff’s deputy took inventory of his belongings. Other than his clothes, including a blazer, jeans and slip-on shoes, the only thing Lyon carried was his driver’s license.