U.S. Attorney's Porn Fight Gets Bad Reviews
Obscenity Prosecution Task Force will focus on Internet crimes and
peer-to-peer distribution of pornography

Julie Kay
Daily Business Review

When FBI supervisors in Miami met with new interim U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta
last month, they wondered what the top enforcement priority for Acosta and
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be.

Would it be terrorism? Organized crime? Narcotics trafficking? Immigration?
Or maybe public corruption?

The agents were stunned to learn that a top prosecutorial priority of Acosta
and the Department of Justice was none of the above. Instead, Acosta told
them, it's obscenity. Not pornography involving children, but pornographic
material featuring consenting adults.

Acosta's stated goal of prosecuting distributors of adult porn has angered
federal and local law enforcement officials, as well as prosecutors in his
own office. They say there are far more important issues in a high-crime
area like South Florida, which is an international hub at risk for
terrorism, money laundering and other dangerous activities.

His own prosecutors have warned Acosta that prioritizing adult porn would
reduce resources for prosecuting other crimes, including porn involving
children. According to high-level sources who did not want to be identified,
Acosta has assigned prosecutors porn cases over their objections.

Acosta, who told the Daily Business Review last month that prosecuting
obscenity was a priority for Gonzales, did not return calls for comment.

"Compared to terrorism, public corruption and narcotics, [pornography] is no
worse than dropping gum on the sidewalk," said Stephen Bronis, a partner at
Zuckerman Spaeder in Miami and chair of the white-collar crime division of
the American Bar Association. "With so many other problems in this area,
this is absolutely ridiculous."

But not everyone agrees. With the rapid growth of Internet pornography,
stamping out obscene material has become a major concern for the Bush
administration's powerful Christian conservative supporters. The
Mississippi-based American Family Association and other Christian
conservative groups have pressured the Justice Department to take action
against pornography. The family association has sent weekly letters to U.S.
attorneys around the country to pressure them to pursue the makers and
distributors of pornography.

"While there are crimes like drugs and public corruption in Miami, this is
also a form of corruption and should be a priority," said Anthony Verdugo,
director of the Christian Family Coalition in Miami. "Pornography is a
poison and it's addictive. It's not a victimless crime. Women are the

The federal government generally has not pursued pornography and obscenity
for at least a decade. The Clinton administration declined to prosecute
cases, and no book stores, video stores or Internet sites -- except those
involving children engaging in sex -- were closed.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a Christian conservative who stepped
down last December, also disappointed social conservatives by not
prosecuting porn during his tenure. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, Ashcroft placed his focus on anti-terrorism efforts.

But the social conservatives have gained traction with new Attorney General
Gonzales, a close associate of President Bush who is considered a strong
contender for a U.S. Supreme Court nomination. In May, Gonzales established
an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force under the office's criminal division.

The task force, headed by Deputy Chief for Obscenity Richard Green, will
work closely with Bruce Taylor, senior counsel to the criminal division's
assistant attorney general.

Taylor is one of the founding members of the Justice Department's National
Obscenity Enforcement Unit back in the 1980s. He reportedly has prosecuted
more than 100 state and federal obscenity cases and is the prosecutor who
went after Hustler publisher Larry Flynt in the early 1980s. He won that
case and Flynt spent six days in jail, but the case was overturned on

The task force, according to a Justice Department news release on May 5,
will be "dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of the distributors
of hard-core pornography that meets the test for obscenity, as defined by
the United States Supreme Court."

In its 1973 landmark ruling on the subject, Miller v. California, the
Supreme Court laid out a three-pronged test to separate obscenity from
protected First Amendment speech. What the ruling said, essentially, was
that if the material is offensive and prurient and has no artistic value, it
is obscenity. The court left it up to local juries and communities to make
the determination.

The Obscenity Prosecution Task Force will pull together prosecutors from
sections covering organized crime and racketeering, asset forfeiture, money
laundering, computer crime and intellectual property. They will be joined by
prosecutors from the High-Tech Investigative Unit, which has computer and
forensic experts. The focus will be on Internet crimes as well as on
"peer-to-peer" distribution of pornography, according to the news release.


Acosta, a Miami native who formerly held a high-level position in the
Justice Department, is having a hard time persuading other law enforcement
officials in South Florida, including his own assistant U.S. attorneys, to
join the anti-porn crusade.

Sources say Acosta was told by the FBI officials during last month's meeting
that obscenity prosecution would have to be handled by the crimes against
children unit. But that unit is already overworked and would have to take
agents off cases of child endangerment to work on adult porn cases. Acosta
replied that this was Attorney General Gonzales' mandate.

Acosta's meetings with other law enforcement agencies also were not
particularly fruitful, sources said.

Criminal defense attorneys and an American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman
say they are appalled at the Justice Department's plan to prioritize the
prosecution of obscenity when narcotics trafficking, public corruption, and
fraud are rampant in South Florida.

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union
and a partner at Duane Morris in Miami, said, "It's amazing that we're
wasting our resources on the morality police instead of battling organized
crime, illegal drugs, corruption and undocumented immigration. I can't even
believe this."

Rodriguez-Taseff said she doubted that Acosta's anti-porn initiative would
get off the ground, in part because it could end up discriminating by
targeting South Florida's large gay community. "We are far too diverse a
community for any such prosecution effort," she said.

Previous efforts by South Florida law enforcement to prosecute sexually
explicit artists have fallen flat. Fort Lauderdale attorney Bruce Rogow
successfully defended 2 Live Crew, the racy rap group that was charged with
obscenity by former Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro in the 1990s.

"I'm not surprised that this is happening, because these things go in cycles
and this is a conservative environment," Rogow said. "But I think law
enforcement has lost its enthusiasm for these types of cases."

But not Sharp of the Family Association. He said any prosecutors who object
to prosecuting obscenity don't understand the law. "Most attorneys have been
led to believe that what is illegal is not illegal in terms of obscenity,"
Sharp said. "They have a misconception of what should be prosecuted. They
think because it's consenting adults, it's not illegal."

Sharp said the initiative is necessary because local law enforcement and
city attorneys get "crushed" by high-powered lawyers hired by adult book
stores or video stores when there are efforts to shut those establishments

"You need the federal government to assist," said Sharp, who takes credit
for closing six adult bookstores in his hometown in Mississippi.

But should porn be a priority in a place like Miami, where serious crime is
rampant? "It's all part of the same thing, of the organized crime
syndicate," Sharp said. "It has an effect on children."

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