Couple gets prison time for Internet obscenity

By , IDG News Service |  Legal, pornography, Tech & society

Husband and wife owners of a California company that distributed pornographic materials over the Internet have been each sentenced to one year and one day in prison, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

Extreme Associates and owners Robert Zicari, also known as Rob Black, 35, and his wife, Janet Romano, aka Lizzie Borden, 32, pleaded guilty in March to a felony charge of conspiracy to distribute obscene material through the mail and over the Internet. They were sentenced Wednesday.

The couple, in their plea agreement, acknowledged distributing three videos through the mail and six video clips over the Internet to western Pennsylvania. They forfeited the domain name, Extremeassociates.com, as part of their plea agreement, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The company is now defunct.

"Extreme Associates produced and distributed sexually degrading material that portrayed women in the most vile and depraved manner imaginable," U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, of the Western District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "These prison sentences affirm the need to continue to protect the public from obscene, lewd, lascivious or filthy material, the production of which degrades all of us."

The DOJ began cracking down on Internet-based pornography in 2003, and the agency established an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in 2005.

Extreme Associates was the subject of a PBS Frontline documentary entitled "American Porn," which aired nationwide in February 2002. That program showed nonsexually explicit portions of the filming of a video. Undercover U.S. Postal inspectors then visited the Extreme Associates Web site and purchased videotapes. Inspectors also downloaded several obscene video clips, the DOJ said.

In August 2003, a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh returned a 10-count indictment against Extreme Associates for violating federal obscenity statutes. In January 2005, a district court judge dismissed the indictment, saying that the federal obscenity statutes were unconstitutional. The government appealed, and Buchanan argued the case in October 2005 before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

In December 2005, the appeals court reversed the decision of the district court and held that the federal statutes regulating the distribution of obscenity do not violate any constitutional right to privacy. The case was then remanded back to the district court.

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