continued "I've got to tell you," says Pancer, "I personally like Fred and admire him. He was very kind to me. I remember one time he took my son and me to some fights at the Sports Arena that he was promoting. He had worked with the San Diego Police Department and Vice Squad for developing rules for topless clubs. He made a mistake for which he's paying a price, but other than that, he's just a real super guy."
Lieutenant Jim Duncan, who until recently ran SDPD's vice unit, is less sanguine.
"I think the overall impression of the guy is that he probably had a pretty lucrative business going, he seemed to try to run it the best he could, but still, all in all, he was in the adult-entertainment business, which isn't always the cleanest type of thing to be in."
Dan White, of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' central record-keeping office in Arizona, and a 20-year veteran of guarding white-collar criminals, goes further. "In my experience, most of those topless places are nothing but dens of iniquity where drug dealers and drug users and pimps and prostitutes hang out. [Having read a few paragraphs of Levy's file] I would say he is...probably an extremely well-liked individual, but very, very manipulative. But people that love him, his family and friends, don't see that side of him. It's just like in the Italian Mafia, the Catholic Church swears by these guys, because they always do the right thing by the church, or by the folks in the neighborhood. That's how they keep the love and the following of the folks who flock around them. They live two lives. They believe in living in one world and working in another."
Yet federal judge Rudi M. Brewster was apparently convinced Fred Levy's conversion was genuine. While Levy awaited sentencing, the judge allowed him to leave the country twice. First on a Caribbean cruise, then on a trip to Medellín, Colombia.
According to friends and mentors, those trips had an extraordinary effect on Levy.
The cruise, April 2 to 12, 1997, was organized by Dr. David Jeremiah, president of Christian Heritage College and senior pastor at El Cajon's Shadow Mountain Community Church. "We had maybe 250 people who went along," he says. "We had meetings every day, where we studied the scripture and had times of praise and worship. And Fred and [his wife] Penny were involved in that. We had a meal with them one day, and they told us the story of what had happened in their lives. Fred [said] he never was involved in the underworld kind of lifestyle that people wanted to impose on that part of his life. It just didn't happen. He did his best in that realm to have integrity. I don't know many people that would do what Fred did, walking away from what he walked away from. He expressed to us many times that there was nothing in the old life that held enchantment to him at all. He wanted to be free and completely away from it."
Also on that cruise was Dr. Charles W. Spicer, founding president of the Overseas Council International, an interdenominational evangelical mission organization that works in the Third World.
"Fred and his wife Penny were very excited about the concept of what we were doing, and so I invited them to go with me...to Medellín, Colombia," says Spicer. "The prime purpose was to visit the seminary that we had been helping over the last decade or so."
Once again the judge granted Levy's lawyer Michael Pancer's request for him to leave the country for a week in August 1997.
"We went to Bellavista maximum-security prison," says Spicer. "At one time they had over 5000 prisoners in a prison designed for 1500 people. These are some of the toughest guys in the world. They're hired assassins, and they're incarcerated for so many murders they cannot tell you how many -- 50 or 100, they lose track. When we started working in the prison there were probably 40 to 60 murders a month, of the most brutal kind. One of the former prisoners, Oscar Osario, whose life was changed through meeting Christ, wanted to go back in and begin to do whatever he could to live the changed life in front of some of the toughest guys. One by one they became Christians, and today the murder rate has dropped to about seven over the last two years."
"Fred was able to speak to these prisoners," says Steve Amerson, who was also on the trip, "from a point of real opulence and wealth, to say 'I've had everything. I've had Testarossas, I've had million-dollar penthouses, I've had it all, but it just really didn't mean anything to me. When it came right down to it, there was a hole and a longing in my heart and that was filled by Jesus Christ.' You could see them connect with Fred, [partly] because of some physical appearance. He's kind of dark-skinned and dark haired and if you didn't know better, you might think he was Latin. Actually, his background is of Indian and Jewish blood, but he's got a darker look to him. So here he is, a man's man, a stocky guy. You can see he's no wimp, and here he is saying, 'My life was meaningless, I had everything there was to have in this world, and yet I had nothing because I didn't have a relationship with God.' You could see the prisoners relate to him. When he was done talking and I was done singing, we were deluged by these prisoners. Here we are in the midst of these assassins, kidnappers, pickpockets...major bad guys, and they are around us hugging us and shaking our hands, they were so thankful that we came and visited them."
"Fred saw all this, and was greatly moved by it," says Spicer. "He said 'That's me,' looking at these young men sitting there."