A California porn company's fight with the U.S. government over obscenity charges will not result in a lengthy trial, as many had assumed. Instead, the owners of porn-maker Extreme Associates pled guilty today to a charge of conspiracy to distribute obscene materials.
Federal judge Gary L. Lancaster will sentence Extreme's owners, Robert Zicari and Janet Romano, on July 1.
US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan -- who was present for the plea -- indicted Romano and Zicari in 2003, charging them with 10 counts of disseminating obscene materials through the mail and over the Internet to western Pennsylvania. An undercover postal inspector purchased the materials and kept an active "VIP membership" with the site from September 2002 to July 2003.
The hardcore adult videos, DVDs and video clips were extremely graphic. They went by titles like Forced Entry Director's Cut, Cocktails 2, Extreme Teen 24. The government offered a 21-page description of the films into evidence. The descriptions include depictions of simulated rape, anal sex, gang bangs, simulated incest and slapping, urinating and spitting on females.
The case was set for trial next week, and the parties were to appear before Lancaster today for a final pre-trial hearing. At 9 a.m. Zicari and his wife Romano, who perform under the names Rob Black and Lizzy Borden, were sitting side-by-side in the courtroom. Their attorney, Louis Sirkin, appeared a short time later and presented the two with documents to change their plea.
Zicari then stood before Lancaster and entered guilty pleas on behalf of both himself and the company. (Romano was slated to plead guilty later in the morning.)
Zicari answered "Yes, your honor" to all questions, including whether he conspired to transmit obscene materials. He wiped his forehead several times as he answered Lancaster's questions about the nature of his crimes. It was a marked change for Zicari, who had previously been openly defiant of Buchanan. Not only did he and Romano pledge to fight the charges, but they used them as a marketing tool, offering a discount for the films that were the subject of Buchanan's indictment. Under the banner headline on their Web site is the phrase: "Hardcore Pornography that the Government does not want you to see."
Zicari's plea follows a surrender in an earlier obscenity case prosecuted by Buchanan. Last year, a Donora woman pled guilty to charges stemming from a Web site which sold pornographic fiction.
The case has had a long, strange journey to get to this point. In 2005 Lancaster dismissed the case saying that the obscenity statutes were not properly used in the case. However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Lancaster's decision. Now both Zicari and Romano face maximum penalties of five years and prison and fines of $250,000. The company faces a maximum penalty of a $500,000 fine. They must also forfeit the domain name www.extremeassociates.com.
For now, the center of their site's home page shows Zicari and Romano standing back to back in a photo with black tape over their mouths and the phrase, "We Will Not Be Censored."