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Feds fiddle as cybertopia burns

Gum shoes case porno peddler that sent smut through the US Mail

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At a time when phishing, malware and other cyber crime is hitting unprecedented levels, a federal grand jury has indicted two Ohio men who ran a website that used the US mail to distribute DVDs prosecutors claim are obscene.

There are no claims the men - 42-year-old Sami R. Harb and 33-year-old Michael Harb - sold to minors or carried titles that involved underage actors. Nonetheless, FBI investigators went through considerable trouble to snare the suspects and their website MoviesByMail

The indictment comes less than a month after the FBI marked a grim milestone in the world of cyber security, logging the millionth computer to be made part of a botnet. Shawn Henry, the deputy assistant director in the FBI's cyber division, called on governmental agencies to work with industry partners to combat the growing malware scourge, arguing it was too big for Feds alone.

Now we understand why.

FBI investigators have been working on the MoviesByMail case since at least August of 2006, when the bureau's National Adult Obscenity Initiative Task Force learned the site sold porn. Over the next nine months, special agents purchased and repeatedly viewed at least six porno videos, conducted physical surveillance on MoviesByMail's Cleveland location, and checked state and federal records related to the company's incorporation and the number of packages it has sent through the US Postal Service.

Ultimately, the prosecutors identified three titles they claim are obscene under local community standards of Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country. "None of the three films has a plot line," the FBI's Special Agent Martin Schwarz wrote in a court complaint. "The films consist entirely of scenes of hard core sexual acts being performed by multiple men and women."

The three offending DVDs are Max Hardcore: "Pure Max 18"; Max Hardcore: "Extreme 12"; and Extreme Associates: "Cocktails 5." The FBI's complaint spends eight pages documenting details of the films. Granted, not all of them are pretty - the description of pina colada mix being poured into a woman's anus, for instance.

But those details strike us as unremarkable when compared to a genre of porn some call shock porn and has been known to turn up just about anywhere online, including on MySpace, as we reported here.

Of course, tracking down a couple of men who used the US Mail to send smut to consenting adults is a lot easier than catching the people who have co-opted more than a million PCs into criminal enterprises, or for that matter, the creeps who cause countless minors to view Tub Girl and other vile images.

The defendants, who are scheduled to appear in US District Court on July 12, face a maximum of 15 years in prison. Compare that to the New York man who faces 11 years for spamming 1.2m AOL subscribers. ®

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