FILTH, OR FREE SPEECH? 


;Under no circumstances would Toilet Man 6 be considered family viewing. As the title suggests, this fetish flick features feces-eating and vomit-smearing, and it stars a guy who calls himself Mike, "The Prince of Scat."

;;Disgusting as it may sound, the original was popular enough to warrant five sequels, so somebody's watching it. Until at least Sept. 5, according to documents filed in federal court, you could go to the website www.scatinbrazil.com, place an order and have your own Toilet Man 6 DVD shipped right to your door. Other titles available from Lexus Multimedia, based off South Kirkman Road in Orlando, included Bukkake 3 and Scat and Fist Fucking 2.

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;Enter the U.S. Department of Justice. Earlier this month, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Danilo Simões Croce of Orlando, who the feds say ran Lexus Multimedia. Croce was charged with accepting Internet payment for obscene materials, then shipping those obscene materials through the mail. (Obscenity is typically prosecuted at the local level, but the feds get involved if the material is distributed through the mail or Internet.) If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison for each of the two counts against him.

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;Attorneys familiar with free-speech issues say this prosecution is the first of its kind in Orlando, at least as far back as they can remember. Local authorities have prosecuted a few cases, but the feds have mostly stayed out of it in Central Florida. No more. In fact, the decision to prosecute Croce came straight from Washington, D.C., as part of a crackdown on hard-core porn.

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;While federal prosecutors went after some porn producers — mainly in Southern states — in the 1980s and early 1990s, those cases largely died out during the Clinton administration, says Lou Sirkin, a noted First Amendment attorney in Cincinnati. (Sirkin successfully challenged a federal law banning "virtual" child porn, and defended the director of Cincinnati's Community Arts Center when he was indicted for displaying Robert Mapplethorpe's photography in 1990.) That drop-off came much to the chagrin of family groups that wanted the government to crack down on smut, usually in the name of protecting children. After George W. Bush's election in 2000, the groups ramped up their pressure.

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;Former attorney general John Ashcroft was receptive to their cause. "Obscenity invades our homes persistently through the mail, phone, VCR, cable TV and now the Internet," Ashcroft told the Federal Prosecutors' Symposium on Obscenity at the National Advocacy Center in 2002. "This multimillion dollar industry with links to organized crime has strewn its victims from coast to coast. Never before has so much obscene material been so easily accessible to minors."

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;His successor, Alberto Gonzalez, continued the campaign. In 2005, Gonzalez formed the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, which, according to its website, is "dedicated exclusively to the protection of America's children and families through the enforcement of our nation's obscenity laws." Two task force attorneys are working on the Croce case with one local federal prosecutor. (The task force's website links to www.moralityinmedia.org, which "works to inform citizens and public officials about the harms of pornography and about what they can do through law to protect their communities and children.")

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;;The problem with enforcing obscenity laws, as has always been the case, is determining what exactly is obscene. Does penetration or sodomy count? Masturbation? Courts have relied on a handful of U.S. Supreme Court cases, the most notable of which is 1973's Miller v. California, to form a three-pronged test for obscenity: One, that the work appeals to "prurient interests"; two, it's "patently offensive"; and three, it has no artistic, literary or satirical merit. But all three of those tests rely on "the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards." That's about as vague as it gets.

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;For instance, what's patently offensive in San Francisco and Lawrence, Kan., are two very different things. But if you make a video in San Francisco and ship it to Lawrence, federal prosecutors can still apply the more conservative obscenity standards and charge you. Currently, the federal government is prosecuting a case in Pittsburgh against a California-based company because the company, Extreme Associates, shipped a porno flick to Pittsburgh through the mail. The community standards are more conservative in Pittsburgh than California. It is, in a very real sense, stacking the deck.

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;But even the U.S. Department of Justice has trouble defining exactly what constitutes obscenity. "There's not a list we work off of," spokesman Bryan Sierra says. "We don't charge cases by content, per se."

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;In other words, there's no memo that says bukkake is obscene but anal sex isn't. Instead, Sierra says, the department tries to train its 93 district attorney's offices in the requirements of the Miller case. "They know what in the community would be considered obscenity versus pornography. … It's a judgment call. They have to apply prosecutorial discretion."

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;Not everyone's a fan of the DOJ's new push.

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;"Adults make movies other adults wanted to see," says Larry Walters, a prominent Orlando free-speech attorney. Walters defended Chris Wilson, purveyor of the now-defunct www.nowthatsfuckedup.com, which featured both images of war casualties and porn, against obscenity charges in Polk County last year. In January, Wilson pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts, turned over his site to authorities and was put on probation. "The U.S. Attorney's [Office is] trying to censor what other people watch and see."

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;"The material is consensual," Sirkin adds.

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;Sirkin is working on obscenity cases similar to U.S. v. Croce in Pittsburgh and Phoenix, and he's heard about a handful of other prosecutions around the country. "They've been making sound waves that they'd be bringing things," he says.

;;Sierra couldn't say how many obscenity-related cases the Justice Department has brought during the Bush administration, or whether that number has peaked since Gonzalez formed the obscenity task force last year. (That task force was, however, responsible for the $2.1 million hit Girls Gone Wild producers took earlier this month for violating federal laws designed to protect minors from sexual exploitation, Sierra says.) He referred questions about the Croce case to the feds' Orlando office. Roger Handberg, one of the lawyers prosecuting Croce, did not return phone calls.

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;No trial date has been set for Danilo Croce. His attorney, David Fussell, did not return phone calls.

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;One thing is clear: Had 537 Florida votes swung differently in 2000, Croce probably wouldn't be worrying about federal prison. And, unless you were among the handful who get off on such things, you never would have heard of Toilet Man 6.

jbillman@orlandoweekly.com

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