Porn producer, wife get 1-year jail terms

Acrimonious obscenity case took 7 years

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Porn producer Rob Zicari's attorney called his client a changed man at his sentencing yesterday for distributing obscenity.

"I believe Rob has learned a valuable lesson" since being indicted for selling graphic pornography featuring the rape and murder of women, said H. Louis Sirkin. "I think he's an entirely different human being today."

But U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, who represented the government in court yesterday, disagreed.

"I agree he's remorseful now," she said, noting that he continued to sell his videos even after indictment. "He's not a positive influence on anyone. He's certainly not a positive influence on his wife. He has her out stripping."

And so the case that began more than seven years ago with Extreme Associates brazenly challenging law enforcement to come and get them -- and Ms. Buchanan happily following a Department of Justice priority to go after obscenity -- ended with a short prison term for both Mr. Zicari and his wife, Janet Romano, and much acrimony. Ms. Romano offered her hand to Ms. Buchanan after the hearing and said, voice steeped in sarcasm, "Congratulations." Her attorney had to pry her hand away from Ms. Buchanan.

Both Mr. Zicari and Ms. Romano were sentenced to one year and one day in prison.

The sentencing was the conclusion of a long, hard-fought battle on both sides, in which the defendants nearly secured a victory 16 months after the charges were filed when U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster threw out the case.

His decision was later overturned by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The defendants planned to take the case to a jury trial, but in March, instead decided to plead guilty. Both Mr. Zicari, 35, and Ms. Romano, 32, of Northridge, Calif., faced a potential term of 21 to 27 months in prison, but Judge Lancaster chose to sentence them below the recommended guideline range.

By adding an extra day onto the year-long sentence, they can qualify to earn nearly two months of time off their sentences, provided they do not have any disciplinary problems in prison.

Though the case began with much fanfare -- seen as an important test of First Amendment and obscenity law when it was originally filed six years ago -- it ended with the defendants conceding.

Yesterday, Mr. Sirkin told the judge the prosecution has ruined the couple.

"This case, obviously, created a ripple effect on the adult industry," he said. "It's had a devastating effect on this individual. They've lost everything they had."

The couple has lost their home and been blacklisted in their industry, he continued.

Ms. Romano, who made a lengthy statement on her own behalf, said she had no idea that what she called "horror porn" could ruin her life.

"We're not Lizzie [Borden] and Rob Black at home," she continued. "They're two characters we created. We show bloopers. We show how it's made -- fake blood, fake slaps.

"People, maybe they find it tasteless. It was a horror porn. I now know the difference."

She took umbrage at Ms. Buchanan's characterization of her as a stripper.

"My shows aren't what she thinks they are. I swallow swords and fire," Ms. Romano said. "For her to say that, I thought that was a stab. My husband never forced me to do anything. He's my best friend."

Her attorney, Warner Mariani, said his client is an exotic dancer.

"That's not subjugation of women," he said. "I'm sorry that's something the U.S. attorney's office looks down on. I'm sorry my client can't live up to their lofty standards."

During Mr. Zicari's sentencing, Ms. Buchanan characterized the films as "the most vile and disgusting."

"On the spectrum of obscene material, this is on the farthest edge of what can be produced," she said. "In this case, the industry is watching."

But experts in adult entertainment said they don't believe that the prosecution will have much impact on those who make adult films.

"It could have been a lot worse," said Bill Margold, a spokesman for the Adult Video Association, and veteran actor of more than 300 pornographic films. "It could have been the quintessential witch hunt of all time and used them as the sacrificial lamb."

He described those working in the adult film industry as "over-aged juvenile delinquents," and said it wasn't likely the others would learn from the sentence.

"Unless it happens to you, you don't learn much," Mr. Margold said.

He said that he warned Mr. Zicari when he flaunted his movies in a 2002 PBS "Frontline" special that he was going to be prosecuted.

"There are certain things you just don't do anymore -- denigration and degradation," he said. "We have to comply with what society feels is comfortable."

Though he ordered both defendants to prison, Judge Lancaster downplayed the seriousness of the crime, saying there were no victims and no evidence of any unwilling adults or children being subjected to viewing the films. In addition, he noted that the Department of Justice has only filed three other obscenity cases in the 3rd U.S. Circuit in the past 20 years.

He noted the intense media coverage of the case, but said that was more likely a result of the unusualness of the charges, as well as comments made by both the government and defense from the very beginning of the prosecution.

"It would be improper for this court to allow media attention to dictate its determination of the seriousness of this offense," the judge said.


Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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