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Federal Obscenity Prosecutions Take A While

This one began in 1998.

U.S. Department of Justice

United States Attorney
Northern District of Texas

1100 Commerce St., 3rd Fl.
Dallas, Texas 75242-1699

Telephone (214) 659-8600
Fax (214) 767-0978

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DALLAS, TEXAS

CONTACT: 214/659-8600
www.usdoj.gov/usao/txn
MARCH 13, 2006

FEDERAL JURY CONVICTS TWO MEN IN OBSCENITY TRIAL

Defendants Sold Rape/Torture Videos on Internet

Two defendants, Clarence Thomas “Tom” Gartman and former Houston Police Officer Brent Alan McDowell, were convicted today by a federal jury in Dallas for their part in the operation of a business that sold obscene videos on the Internet, announced Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper of the Northern District of Texas.

U.S. Attorney Roper said, “With these convictions, six defendants in three different cases have been convicted in the Northern District of Texas in recent months of distributing obscene material. We will continue to work closely with the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and Obscenity Prosecution Task Force to ensure that those who traffic in obscenity are brought to justice.”

Gartman, 35, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute obscene materials and one count of mailing obscene materials and aiding and abetting. McDowell, 37, was convicted of one count of mailing obscene matter and aiding and abetting. The third defendant on trial, Lou Anthony Santilena, 32, was acquitted of all charges. All three defendants had been charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Dallas in May 2004.

Gartman faces a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine and McDowell faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Gartman and McDowell are U.S. citizens who were living in Canada at the time of the indictment. They both currently reside in the Las Vegas, Nevada area. Both Gartman and McDowell remain on bond. They are scheduled to be sentenced by the Honorable Barefoot Sanders, United States Senior District Judge, on June 15, 2006.

The government provided evidence at trial that beginning in 1998, Gartman, McDowell and others maintained a website on the Internet, “forbiddenvideos.com.” The “forbiddenvideos website was used to advertise and distribute obscene videos by VHS cassettes, CD-Roms and streaming video, including videos depicting rape scenes, sexual torture and excretory functions in conjunction with sex acts. The government presented evidence at trial that the defendants posted graphic descriptions of the obscene materials on the “forbiddenvideos.com” website. The obscene videos ordered from the website were initially sent by U.S. mail and United Postal Service from locations within the Northern District of Texas. Later, the defendants also distributed the obscene videos through a collection of websites managed from the Northern District of Texas and elsewhere, which enabled customers in the United States and throughout the world, to download obscene digital video images or to view digital streaming video. Customers of the “forbiddenvideos.com” website, or related websites, would place orders and pay for the obscene videos by check, credit card, or through a PayPal account.

The defendants’ website operation was identified during an investigation into similar activities of Garry Layne Ragsdale and his wife, Tamara Michelle Ragsdale. Gartman and the Ragsdales were partners in a business distributing obscene videos until a dispute arose between them in early 1998 which dissolved the partnership. The Ragsdales were convicted in federal court in Dallas on October 23, 2003 on obscenity charges related to the obscene video business they conducted after their partnership with Gartman ended. On March 5, 2004, the Honorable Sidney A. Fitzwater, United States District Judge, sentenced Garry Ragsdale to 33 months in prison and Tamara Ragsdale to 30 months in prison. Their convictions were upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Ragsdales’ case in February 2006.

In order to prove a matter is “obscene,” the jury was required to satisfy a three-part test: (1) that the work appeals predominantly to prurient interest; (2) that it depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and (3) that the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. An appeal to “prurient” interest is an appeal to a morbid, degrading, and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex. This three-part test is a result of rulings by the United States Supreme Court in 1973 and 1976.

U. S. Attorney Roper praised the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Dallas Police Department Vice Squad, along with the Canadian Border Services Agency and the Lethbridge, Canada Police Services. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Linda C. Groves and DOJ Obscenity Prosecution Task Force Trial Attorney Richard D. Green. The task force was established last year by the Justice Department Criminal Division to focus on the prosecution of adult obscenity nationwide.

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