Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wrestling Promoters Sentenced To Prison On Obscenity Charge

Former XPW( Xtreme Pro Wrestling) promoters Rob Zicari and his wife Janet Romano have been sentenced to one year and one day in prison by Federal Judge Gary Lancaster for an obscenity charge that the judge had earlier ruled was unconstitutional. It was a bittersweet decision for the judge, which believed that the couple acted within their constitutional rights to produce their own line of kooky adult entertainment films. By sentencing the couple to one year and one day, they can qualify for good time. Further, the judge refused to levy any fines against the couple which faced up to $5 million in fines and potentially 50 years in prison.

Wrestling promoter Rob Zicari had at one point decided to combine the outrageous theatrics of his professional wrestling business with adult filmmaking, creating a goofy gonzo adult film company called Extreme Associates. Zicari and his wife decided to push the limits of good taste, and the careful legal and artistic customs of most other commercial California adult films, and offered a clear challenge to Christian right oriented Attorney General John Ashcroft back in 2002 on an episode of PBS FRONTLINE to bring obscenity charges against them as a test case to affirm free speech rights in the United States. But like any braggart prowrestler who issues silly threats, Zicari only bought himself far more problems than he ever expected where another Christian right federal official, Federal Prosecutor Mary Beth Buchanan in Western Pennsylvania helped to orchestrate a federal postal sting operation and case against the couple to bring serious federal obscenity charges against Extreme Associates for three films and some film clips posted on their California company website. It became the first federal obscenity case in 10 years, and drained huge amounts of tax money on one hand, and also drove both Zicari and his wife into financial ruin as well, losing both their wrestling and film businesses with endless legal bills for a silly case tied up in the courts for years.

After spending years in court battles, and broke, the couple finally agreed to guilty plea to a single federal charge of conspiracy to distribute obscene material to stop their endless legal bills. It was highly debatable whether the films produced by Zicari were much worse than any other California adult film producer. If anything, from the very beginning the case seemed like it was entirely a political payoff by the Bush Administration to the religious right to find someone to prosecute for obscenity charges simply to prove something to supporters like James Dobson or others.

The case against Zacari and his wife was probably one of the biggest wastes of money as a political boondoggle to satisfy a few political supporters. And Buchanan's case against the couple seemed to be far more about her promoting religious views through law than anything else. Buchanan even used morality terms such as "filthy" to refer their films, which really begs the question whether religion has any legitimate role in policing culture such as film in American society. In most parts of the Western world, government has long ago gotten out of the censorship business and acting as some film policing arm for the churches.
At one point during the trial of the couple, Federal Judge Gary Lancaster had ruled that federal obscenity laws are unconstitutional and struck them down citing the right of privacy allows adults to distribute films to other adults as they see fit. But the Bush Administration appealed that ruling to a friendly appeals court loaded with friendly judges that reinstated the obscenity charges. When the couple ran out of money to continue to defend themselves, then they eventually were forced to plead guilty to the single obscenity charge deal offered by the government who wouldn't drop the case, but appeared unable to win the case as long as the couple continued legal efforts.

The three films probably had a retail value around just $60 total. Yet the federal government and Zicari probably both wasted several million dollars to take a grand total of three absurd and trashy DVDs off the market because they offended the religious tastes of a few federal officials. If anything, the case is significant in that it proves the huge ongoing problem of religious control over the American media in the United States. Few adult films could be found legally obscene in most parts of the country, so elaborate legal schemes to put a film on trial in some conservative community to bring down some filmmaker must be put together by prosecutors, and even that's no guarantee of success at trial. Prosecutor's need to find a few strange quirks in an adult film in most cases to bring such material to trial. Other court cases have pretty well established that sexual penetration in films, adult or arthouse, are not obscene, but constitutionally protected materials.

The case against the prowrestler didn't do anything positive for American society other than burning up millions of dollars to remove just three low budget films that few would ever care to see. These three films weren't very popular. Few retailers cared to stock them in video rental stores of any type. They never set any sales records by any means. They were strictly oddball goofy stuff. If anything, it proves the fanaticism of some in the religious community who are willing to spend millions of American tax dollars to remove just three films from distribution that offend their religious or moral tastes.

Strangely, even though Los Angeles has as many as 100,000 active gang members and huge problems with drug distribution and violent crime, the Los Angeles Police Department maintain a pornography squad. That's a real handy thing to have around when you have only one obscenity case once every ten years to pursue, but drive-by shootings and robberies related to drugs or gangs every single day.

It seems like prowrestling promoter Rob Zicari wanted a real fight. He got it from some in the federal government, hell bent on using law to promote their religious views. This was one wrestling match he clearly lost.


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