Web-Based Business Charged with Distributing Obscenity

Web-Based Business Charged with Distributing Obscenity

Grant Gross, IDG News Service 6.15.2007

Two people operating the Internet business Movies by Mail have been charged with one count of selling obscene material, including movies showing sexual acts with women dressed to look underage, the U.S. Department of Justice announced late Thursday.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah will issue a summons to Sami R. Harb and Michael Harb, whose business is based in Cleveland, Ohio, the DOJ said in a press release. The Harbs, whose relationship with one another was not stated in DOJ information, are scheduled to appear in court June 29.

The maximum penalty for a conviction under the obscenity charge is five years in prison.

A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent located in Salt Lake City ordered six DVDs from Movies by Mail in March 2007. Three of the movies were obscene by local Utah standards, the FBI alleged.

Two of the allegedly obscene movies were produced by porn movie director Paul F. Little, known as Max Hardcore, who was charged in late May with 10 counts of obscenity-related charges by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, in Tampa.

The movies include sexual scenes with women dressed to look like juveniles, the FBI complaint said.

Movies by Mail didn't immediately respond to an e-mail message asking for comments on the obscenity charge.

The Utah charge stems from a coordinated investigation effort being conducted spearheaded by the FBI's Adult Obscenity Task Force and the DOJ's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. The DOJ established its obscenity task force in May 2005.

The DOJ has "stepped up the prosecution of obscenity cases, as evidence increases of the harm of obscenity to American children and families," U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman of Utah said in a statement. "As obscene materials continue to proliferate, they are becoming more accessible for the young and the innocent among us. At the same time they are becoming more extreme and degrading in content and present a growing threat to the well being of American families and our society as a whole."

Tolman suggested the material Movies by Mail distributes meets the definition of obscene depictions of sexual conduct. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1973 case, established a three-part test to determine obscenity:

1. Whether the average person would find the movie, taken as a whole and applying local standards, appeals to the prurient Interest;

2. Whether the work depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, when applying local standards;

3. Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

The complaint now goes to a Utah grand jury, which will decide if the material is obscene, Tolman said.

Movies By Mail delivered 683 packages to Utah between Jan. 3, 2006, and Dec. 11, 2006, according to the U.S. Postal Service. The complaint says 149 of those packages were shipped directly to Salt Lake City.

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