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'Rare' obscenity prosecution signals new crackdown

By The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — A California couple and their company were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly distributing obscene materials, and federal authorities in Pennsylvania said they were planning more prosecutions after years of lax enforcement.

Robert Zicari and Janet Romano, both of Los Angeles' Northridge section, and their company, Extreme Associates, were indicted for distributing three videos to a "sting" address in Pittsburgh through the mail and six images over the Internet, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said yesterday.

"The lack of enforcement of our federal obscenity laws during the mid- to late-1990s has led to a proliferation of obscenity throughout the United States," Buchanan said at a news conference yesterday.

She was joined by U.S. Postal Service and Justice Department officials and Vance Proctor, captain of the Los Angeles Police Department's organized crime and vice division, all of whom participated in the investigation.

Authorities said they ordered videos and had them mailed to Pittsburgh. They also took out a Web site membership.

Zicari, 29, and Romano, 26, who authorities say also use the names Rob Black and Lizzie Borden, surrendered their passports and must appear at an arraignment in Pittsburgh on Aug. 27.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine for Zicari and Romano, and probation and a $5 million fine for the company, Buchanan said.

Zicari and Romano could not immediately be reached for comment. There were no phone listings for them, and calls and an e-mail to Extreme Associates went unanswered.

"Today's indictment marks an important step in the Department of Justice's strategy for attacking the proliferation of adult obscenity," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.

Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department didn't track obscenity prosecutions, but that they have been "rare over the past decade or so."

Patrick McGrath, spokesman for Morality in Media, a New York-based nonprofit religious organization, welcomed the planned crackdown. In some recent years, he said, federal obscenity prosecutions had been in the single digits, down from around 70 a year in the mid-1980s.

Joseph B. Obenberger, an adult entertainment industry and First Amendment lawyer in Chicago, said he wasn't surprised by the planned crackdown. "All of this was to make good on promises made (by the Bush administration) to elements of the fanatic moral right," he said.

Buchanan said the prosecution was not about limiting personal sexual conduct but about "banning sexually explicit materials."

Authorities won't go after producers of mainstream pornography or even customers of companies such as Extreme Associates, she said. Extreme Associates hasn't been shut down during the investigation, she added, because federal laws don't allow for it. However, Buchanan said prosecutors would try to put it out of business through forfeiture actions.

Authorities raided Extreme Associates in April and took videos and financial records. Buchanan declined to say what its profits might be.

The grand jury found the company's video and Internet images violated the U.S. Supreme Court's test for obscenity, Buchanan said, adding that such companies must adhere to community standards wherever their products are available.

Obenberger said the case was brought in Pennsylvania because of its conservative reputation. Prosecutors "want this thing to be decided under the standards of western Pennsylvania," he said.

Charges dismissed against California porn business
Federal judge finds prosecutors went too far in trying to block availability of videos depicting rape, murder. 01.25.05


Pornography & obscenity

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