Morality in Media recently spoke with Roger Young, the FBI's former lead obscenity investigator, about his career investigating obscenity and how citizens can support such work
MORALITY IN MEDIA: Could you tell us about your work as an FBI agent, particularly with obscenity and child pornography cases.
ROGER YOUNG: I joined the FBI in November 1975, and in October 1977 began working child pornography, prostitution and obscenity cases. For over 23 years, the majority of my work was in these areas. I was fortunate to have worked three major national obscenity initiatives-one of which was MIPORN [code name]. MIPORN investigations began in 1977, and on Valentine's Day 1980 the FBI simultaneously executed search warrants across the nation on 54 major pornographers. I worked on investigations in San Francisco. All defendants were prosecuted in Miami, Florida.
The next one was BLUE DARCY [code name], which was the case against Reuben Sturman, who was described by the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography [in 1986] as the most prolific producer and distributor of pornography-and the wealthiest pornographer-in the history of the world. BLUE DARCY went from 1982 until Sturman was convicted in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1992, on Racketeering-Interstate Transportation of Obscene Matter. Prior to that, he was convicted in 1989 in Cleveland, Ohio for income tax evasion.
Then beginning in the late 1980s, [I was involved in] another major national initative called WOODWORM [code name], that targeted major pornographers, many of them connected to organized crime, in the San Fernando Valley area north of Los Angeles. I worked on three cases prosecuted in Las Vegas where I was based.
All along, I had some national and international child pornography cases and cases involving child prostitution. But when I began working child pornography cases early in 1977, there were no child porn laws. We used obscenity laws to prosecute child porn. In 1978, Congress enacted a law that prohibited the production of child porn without proof of obscenity, but the law was limited to material produced for pecuniary profit. It wasn't until after 1982, when the Supreme Court held that child porn could be prosecuted without proof of obscenity, that Congress enacted laws aimed at noncommercial production and distribution of child pornography.
I always tell people this -- there's no such thing as just an obscenity or child pornography case, because you have all kinds of other laws being violated and residual effects on the community and individuals that are affected by these types of cases.
MIM: Were you assigned to a particular FBI Field Office, or was your assignment obscenity and child porn generally, so that you could work out of any office?
RY: I was assigned to the San Francisco division, which reached as far south as San Luis Obispo and north along the coast to the Oregon border. When cases came up that involved obscenity or child pornography, I would cover that whole area. I was in San Francisco right after I graduated from the FBI Academy until I was transferred to Las Vegas, which covers the state of Nevada, in January 1981. The rest of my time was in the Las Vegas Division.
But-much like my father, who in 1968 was designated the national field coordinator for all pornography cases throughout the United States-the FBI started flying me to various spots in the U.S. to assist [in obscenity cases] and to debrief any major figures in the pornography industry that decided to do a plea agreement or decided to cooperate with the Government in crimes they had committed.
MIM: Was there a period when both you and your father were in the FBI together?
RY: He was in the Bureau from 1940 to 1972. I entered in 1975. My father presented me with my FBI credentials when I graduated from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., and the FBI gave me his badge to wear, which I wore throughout my career.
MIM: Could you tell us more about your father's FBI career efforts against obscenity?
RY: From 1955 until he retired, my father was the lead investigator in the FBI for obscenity. He investigated and watched the San Fernando Valley area develop into what is commonly called "The Porn Valley." He worked obscenity cases-which was very difficult at the time, because there was no racketeering statute. You couldn't really attack the companies; you had to find and develop investigative techniques to arrest the owners. But most of the time you ended up arresting the pornography store managers or the people who actually carried the obscenity interstate.
He worked with the Postal Inspectors and other agencies, and through his efforts he developed research and intelligence that later benefited me. When we got together after I started working obscenity cases, whether we were playing golf or fishing, it was like a clinic. He passed on information that was very beneficial to me.
MIM: How did the passage of the RICO-Obscenity statute help your work?
RY: Very valuable. It really put teeth into the law. It was extremely helpful in 1984 when President Reagan signed that bill. Because now the FBI could use the racketeering statute to shut down the business and seize all the assets and the land and buildings and the cars, vehicles, houses-if anything was bought from monies from the crime of obscenity, and we could prove that this was their sole income, and the profits from this obscenity business purchased this Mercedes-Benz and this home, and so forth-the Government could seize it all. That's what hurt the pornographers. And that's what the racketeering statute was meant to do-to cause an illegal business to cease and desist.
MIM: And you were able to use that statute in the field to do those major seizures.
RY: Yes, especially in the Reuben Sturman case in Las Vegas. We were able to shut down and seize the profits, the assets and the land on seven pornography bookstores in Las Vegas, two X-rated theaters-one in Reno, Nev., one in Berkeley, Calif.-[plus] two in San Francisco. [We] took an unbelievable amount of pornography off the street, and also prevented a large amount from even getting to the street.
MIM: Was there any child porn case you worked on that stands out for you?
RY: One of my early cases in San Francisco was an international child pornography and child prostitution ring, highly organized-two men who traveled throughout the world to have sex with children also had a mail order business in San Francisco. They put out color brochures through the U.S. mails of all kinds of pornography, including child pornography, and were making about a million dollars a year, bringing children in from Mexico, Puerto Rico, other parts of the country. They had 5,000 customers throughout the U.S. and 26 foreign countries. A large amount of those customers were purchasing and receiving child pornography, and the majority of them were involved with sex acts with children. At the time, it was a shock to the public and to the media to discover that such a thing was occurring, two miles from the FBI office in San Francisco.
MIM: When did that case occur?
RY: That was from 1977 until trial in 1981. Then following that, there were an awful lot of child pornography cases after the Federal [child pornography] law was passed, and the emphasis in the Attorney General's office became crimes against children.
MIM: There's a heightened awareness of the dangers of child pornography-but in fact these kinds of crimes have been going on for a long time. People didn't just start using child pornography yesterday.
RY: Oh yes. Even before it was going on long before the public, media, prosecutors, and investigators knew what was happening. In one case I discovered a person who had produced child pornography back in 1968. That was in Florida. Some of those materials were found in search warrants we did in 1978, and then again in search warrants we did in 1982, and in search warrants we did in 1986. People just keep on producing the same stuff over and over and over again. Every once in a while, we'd do search warrants and find some of the material that I could identify from cases that I'd done previously.
Most people think that when you do an obscenity or a child pornography case, you do the case and that's it, it's over. But actually this material is preserved by people and reproduced over and over and over again.
MIM: Could you tell us more about the MIPORN and the WOODWORM cases?
RY: In the MIPORN case, two FBI agents went undercover, formed a pornography business in Miami as a sting operation with bank accounts and so forth, and traveled throughout the United States, meeting with and doing business with major pornographers, and discovering how prolific, how really bad it was.
As I said, there's no such thing as "just" an obscenity case, because they ran into child pornography, stolen property, illegal weapons, money laundering, prostitution-many, many violations. The whole MIPORN sting was organized by the FBI so that these two agents (who were undercover beginning in 1977 through the search warrants on Valentine's Day 1980) could purchase different types of pornography they believed to be obscene, and have everything shipped to their warehouse in Miami, and have all the cases prosecuted in Miami, which was done by prosecutors there, especially Marcella Cohen, who was an outstanding prosecutor working for the Strike Force in Miami.
MIM: And WOODWORM?
RY: WOODWORM was organized in 1989 in Los Angeles by federal prosecutors, FBI agents, and detectives from the LAPD Administrative Vice Unit. The LAPD detectives had experience working obscenity cases and knew the area. These detectives worked with FBI offices around the country to conduct investigations of major pornographers located in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. Three major pornographers headquartered in the San Fernando Valley were assigned to our FBI office in Las Vegas. We investigated the three and purchased hardcore pornography, using a "sting" type operation so that the pornography was shipped interstate from California to Nevada.
One pornographer assigned to me was a "made" member of the Colombo [organized crime] family, Anthony Perraino, who was the originator of the "Deep Throat" movie back in the '69-'70-'71 era, and had continued on with his pornography business and developed it in the San Fernando Valley. His two sons were "Butch" (real name Louis) and Joe Perraino. The Perraino case went to court in the mid-1990s.
MIM: How did the criminal cases work out?
RY: Two of the three pornographers pled guilty and did not go to trial. The Perrainos went to trial in Las Vegas, but the timing of the trial was bad. It was after the O.J. Simpson case, and the defense attorney portrayed the federal prosecutors as outsiders who had come from Washington to tell the people of Nevada what they could or could not see. He portrayed the government of harassing the defendants and threatening their freedom of speech, and he insinuated that ethnic prejudice (the defendants were Italian) was a factor in the prosecution.
The attorney had the jury so inflamed that I don't think they even heard the judge's instructions. If they would have followed the judge's instructions, regardless of their personal beliefs, there was no question in my mind that they would have found the films obscene. But he so inflamed the jurors that within an hour they came back and found the Perraino sons, "Butch" and Joe, not guilty. Anthony Perraino was not prosecuted because he was ill and not expected to live. In my entire, this was the only obscenity case that went to trial that we lost.
MIM: Hardcore pornography seems to be everywhere on the Internet. Is it realistic to think that we can reverse this flood of obscenity through the vigorous enforcement of the Federal obscenity laws?
RY: Yes, I believe we can. Throughout our nation's history citizens have made a difference by fighting against things that harm society. Obscenity and child pornography laws were created by people who complained, who talked to their legislators, who didn't give up. We would not have any laws against pornography if it weren't for people who got the ball rolling.
Today, I liken Internet pornography -- because it's so prolific -- to a transcontinental ballistic missile with multiple atomic warheads that come and explode all over the U. S. That's what we have now -- multiple explosions of obscenity on the Internet. I cannot give a talk without someone saying that they have been "spammed" or that they got unwanted adult obscenity on the Internet from just trying to do something else-research, for instance, or they bought something and their screen name was sold or stolen and they got unwanted obscenity on the Internet.
I estimate that there are over 400,000 obscenity sites. This is not by accident. This is a planned and encouraged thing by the major pornographers to make it so prolific on the Internet that people say, "What can we do about it, it's so overwhelming, we shouldn't even try." That's the goal of the people making the money from it. It comes down to one word-greed. It's a planned attack; all this Internet obscenity is not by chance.
Much if not most hardcore pornography on the Internet, however, originates from a small number of major pornographers. They own countless porn sites and provide pornography for countless other sites. Putting even a few of these major pornographers out of business through enforcement of obscenity laws, including RICO-obscenity laws, would make a huge impact.
Once word gets out that the government means business about fighting obscenity, other pornographers will choose to get out of the business. Porn attorneys speak of this as a "chilling effect," as if our cherished First Amendment freedoms were somehow threatened! But criminal laws have two primary purposes: first, to punish crime and second, to deter crime. When enforcement of obscenity laws deters future violations of obscenity laws, that's a good thing. That is law at work.
But to reverse the floodtide of obscenity will take a concerted effort on the part of the Justice Department's Obscenity Section in Washington; federal prosecutors in district offices nationwide; FBI Agents, Postal Inspectors, and Customs Agents; and state and local law enforcement agencies. And it will take about 4-8 years.
MIM: What do you say to people who say that law enforcement ought to be focusing just on sexual exploitation against children, and who would say that obscenity enforcement is a wasteful distraction?
RY: I say that people who feel that way need to be educated and made aware of how devastating obscenity is to both children and society, and that much sexual exploitation of children involves use of "adult" obscenity. Before I retired, I worked on the "Innocent Images" cases, targeting crimes against children on the Internet. In many of those cases, adults used "adult" pornography to target children they wished to have sex with.
Obscenity is so flagrant right now, it's such an explosion on the Internet, that any child can hardly get on the Internet and start doing research without running into it, especially now with major pornographers using catchy names and timing their pornography [sites] to come out [to take advantage of it]. For example, the movie "Scooby-Doo" comes out, and a pornography site opens called "doobyonline." I got a complaint from parents where their two 10-year-old daughters were looking for pantyhose on the Internet and found the site "teenpantyhose," which turns out to be hard-core pornography.
Now there's research and articles, being published quite often, on the effects of obscenity on children. And of course there's the research on how hard-core violent pornography reaches children going through puberty and into teenage-hood. They become addicted to it and it affects them in later life, some of them becoming very serious criminals.
MIM: How do you answer those who say that obscenity crimes are victimless?
RY: I wish I could get across to more people how many parents I've sat with whose children have been affected by this -- not to mention, in Las Vegas, the one or two wives a year who would have the courage to call or come into the FBI office and talk to me, and say, "Can't you do something about this pornography store? My husband is spending all kinds of money there, it's affecting our family." Most of them ended up divorcing because their husbands became so involved that it tore the family apart.
MIM: Is the Mafia still involved in the production and distribution of hard-core pornography?
RY: Absolutely. I would not say that every single pornography business is involved with organized crime, but there are definitely those businesses that are directly owned, or directly involved with organized crime, making large profits. Then some pornographers are buying products from businesses that are controlled to or linked to organized crime.
My father was also able to investigate and see that in the 1960s. Organized crime (especially the Colombo and Gambino families in New York) moved into the San Fernando Valley and developed a West Coast base of operations in pornography.
MIM: From your experience, could you -- discreetly -- describe what obscene material typically consists of?
RY: Yes. First, the pornographers and their attorneys have done an unbelievable job of deceiving, confusing and causing doubt in prosecutors, investigators, judges and the general public-so much so that basically good people have often thrown out common sense and decency, not understanding what hardcore pornography is all about. Rest assured, pornographers don't want people to be educated about this.
Basically, obscenity is hard-core material, where there's some type of sexual conduct occurring. From the various court decisions over the years, the legal definition of obscenity has been established. It's a three-prong test. The first two prongs are measured by community standards. The first prong asks whether the average person, applying the standards within their community, would find that the pornography in question, taken as a whole, appeals to a prurient interest. People get confused-they say, "What is that?" That's a lustful or a morbid or a shameful desire.
The second prong, also based on community standards, asks whether the work depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way. "Patently" means "clearly"-a clearly offensive way to the viewer. This includes, but is not limited, to representations of ultimate sex acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated; also masturbation, excretory functions, lewd exhibition of the genitalia, and sadomasochism.
The third part of the obscenity test asks whether a reasonable person, looking at the material taken as a whole, would determine that the material lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Community standards aren't applied here.
When I teach classes -- at a university, or at the Judicial College at the University of Nevada at Reno -- I say, "Well, why was this material made? For some literary prize or newspaper article? Was it made to hang in an art museum or for some artistic prize? Was it made for some political campaign? Was it made by doctors licensed by the medical board to help people with sexual dysfunctions?"
When you put it that way, most people understand why it was made -- to make money by preying on vulnerable people and indulging debased and perverse sexual appetites. Anybody who does any surveillance of pornography bookstores knows that most of the time you see regulars who go to the same bookstores over and over again. For them, viewing pornography has become an addiction.
People in the pornography industry do not like the word [pornography]. It has a derogatory meaning. The term "adult material" was put forth by them to soften it, to try to make it more acceptable in the community. They'd rather say that this is mainstream, run-of-the-mill, adult material, not pornography, because they know that "pornography" came from two Greek words, "porne" and "graphos," which literally translated means "the writing of prostitutes."
MIM: You've retired recently from the FBI. Why are you still fighting pornography?
RY: My father did it for so many years, and he was handcuffed because he didn't have the laws and the mechanisms we have now. In 1968, my father recommended that there be a special section at FBI headquarters and a special section at the Department of Justice with prosecutors who could coordinate nationally and provide training and assistance in obscenity prosecutions. You had inexperienced assistant U.S. Attorneys calling around and asking, "How do you do this or that?"
Defense attorneys for the pornographers were experienced and organized. They had the country divided up as to who would help whom; they had their training and get-togethers to fight prosecutions.
I fought obscenity and child pornography work for over 23 years. I know how devastating the residual effects of it are on the individuals, families, communities, and the nation. I thought why would I want to retire and just have my father's work and my work die. I thought there's more here that I should be able to do. So I formed my own business, and since retirement, I've continued to teach and lecture and testify as an expert witness and do case analysis, and try to help law enforcement as much as I can.
I realized that there are so many people in all walks of life that just don't see the big picture of obscenity and the problems that it causes, and the residual effects of financial loss, of psychological damage, of the future of raising healthy people in this country, realizing how dangerous this can be. I always tell people that obscenity and child pornography should be treated like toxic gas. You need to keep it at arms' length. You can be breathing the fumes, and have it affect you, and not realize the effect that it's starting to have on you. That needs to be recognized and identified.
For instance, there have been several instances where residual crimes [other than obscenity] in a particular area decreased up to thirty-three percent after the city or county enacted an "adult use" zoning ordinance that forced sexually oriented businesses to move out of the area. Obscenity in "adult businesses" attracts individuals involved in other crimes (drugs, prostitution, indecency, rape, etc.) that also hurt the community.
MIM: Pornography is not just criminal problem, but also a spiritual problem. Why do you think most pastors have been silent about the growing menace of pornography?
RY: In many cases, it's a lack of understanding and education and awareness. Awareness and education are the greatest weapons against pornography. Where does a pastor go to get training in this area? Certainly they don't spend time on it in seminary.
Then you have clergy who believe this is something they should not talk about. This is something to pray about, but not something to be involved with. They don't want to give the appearance they're carrying the flag, charging forward, fighting this type of thing in our society. But with the Internet, more of these clergy-and their families-are being hit right in the face with it. And that is going to wake up people.
MIM: How can the ObscenityCrimes.org Web site help get the obscenity laws enforced?
RY: Individuals and citizens throughout the country can make a difference by filling out and submitting reports from ObscenityCrimes.org. This information can then be put together and sent directly to those individuals who investigate and prosecute these matters. It definitely will help educate and [raise] the level of awareness of individuals who make the decisions to prosecute obscenity crime. And it will definitely help make them understand how serious this obscenity problem is and how damaging it can be to people of all ages and their communities, through the Internet. It will probably wake them up to how serious the proliferation of obscenity is on the Internet.
I believe that what's on the Internet is some of the worst material I have ever seen in 23 and a half years of conducting investigations for the FBI. How someone can ignore this is beyond me, when it can be so devastating. Now, with the current Administration in Washington, I believe there are people who really are starting to understand how serious this problem is and how harmful it can be to future generations.
MIM: Do you think this Web site gives the computer user at home or at work a weapon, so that they don't have to feel helpless against hardcore Internet porn any more?
RY: Certainly, my friends and some family members have called me and have said, "Gee, I've been getting this spam; I try to go to whitehouse.com, or do research about the FBI or some other subject, and I'm getting pornography. How do I get it off? What do I do about it? Who do I call? What can be done?"
People now have a tool, a method, a way of getting reports to prosecutors and making them more aware. I believe it's fantastic. For years, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has provided a CyberTipline for crimes against children; but there hasn't been in the past something for obscenity. Now there is something people can really do and feel like they're doing something worthwhile to help rid this problem from coming into the home, the workplace, the library, the school.
MIM: And this is in a form that prosecutors can use.
RY: Absolutely. The prosecutors now can take the ObscenityCrimes.org report forms and have a variety of people complaining about the same site, or multiple people in the same district, or various districts, and they can develop a lot of evidence and a lot of facts from this that would help in the prosecution of obscenity cases.
Printed with permission from ObscenityCrimes.org.