West Valley Pair Punished for Perverted Porn in Pittsburgh

A California husband and wife were sentenced Wednesday to a year and a day in federal prison for distributing pornographic videos simulating rape, murder and other violence against women.

Robert Zicari, 35, and Janet Romano, 32, also received two years of probation to follow. The Northridge, Calif., couple pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to distribute obscene material — Internet movies and DVDs purchased by an undercover U.S. postal inspector in Pittsburgh.

"On a spectrum of obscene material, this is at the farthest end that could possibly be produced," U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said.

The couple faced up to 27 months in prison under federal guidelines, but U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster opted for a lesser sentence. The judge noted obscenity prosecutions are rare — just three have been brought in 20 years in the 3rd Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands — and said the level of publicity about the case far outweighed its seriousness.

"While it is true that the Justice Department has not brought a lot of these cases that's because it's tough," Buchanan said. "It's taken us six years to get to this point."

Lancaster, however, rejected defense requests for probation, agreeing with Buchanan that the videos were sadistic and masochistic.

The couple were indicted in 2003 after a grand jury concluded their videos met the U.S. Supreme Court's definition of obscenity. In 2005, Lancaster dismissed the charges, saying companies have a right to distribute the videos because people can legally view them at home. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reinstated the indictment.

Zicari, using his on-camera alter ego of "Rob Black," had ridiculed the prosecution and marketed some videos as the "Federal Five-Pack" after agents targeted the couple's company, Extreme Associates Inc. The business, the focus of a PBS "Frontline" documentary in 2002, is now defunct and $100,000 in debt.

The sentencing turned from the routine when Zicari's attorney proclaimed him a changed man and Buchanan countered by questioning the couple's current employment.

She said Zicari remains unemployed and lives off his wife's income as an exotic dancer.

"He's got her out stripping to support them," Buchanan told the judge before apologizing to Romano and explaining the remarks weren't meant to denigrate her.

Romano defended her act as "vaudeville," telling the judge, "My shows are like art. I swallow swords, I do fire (tricks). So for her to say that, I was highly offended."

Romano's attorney, Warner Mariani, called Buchanan's remarks "completely unprofessional and uncalled for," but the defense attorneys and defendants otherwise declined to comment after the sentencings.

Romano told Lancaster that she didn't consider the movies in which she appeared to be obscene when she made them, but says she now understands why they're illegal.

"I didn't know making a horror porn was going to destroy my life," Romano said, noting she wrote and directed one movie that Lancaster described in court. It depicts a woman who is suffocated with a plastic bag during a home invasion and sexual assault.

"Everybody that was in that movie was friends of mine," Romano said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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