A California man who pleaded guilty in January to distributing child pornography over the Internet has been sentenced to 26 months in prison and fined $50,000.
Robert Alan Thomas, 40, who is already serving a 32-month prison term on adult pornography charges in Tennessee, was indicted in Utah in 1994 after prosecutors downloaded sexually explicit images from his commercial bulletin board service.His Tennessee conviction drew national attention as one of the first prosecutions of "cyberporn" in the nation, raising new, computer-age free speech issues.
In the Utah case, however, free speech was never an issue because "a bright line separates child pornography from other, arguably protected free speech," said assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lambert.
"Portraying a child under age 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct is prohibited. It's not obscenity, it's child exploitation, and that is illegal and always has been," Lambert said. "Child pornography is not protected in any way."
While it was the first prosecution of a commercial BBS for child pornography in Utah, a number of other cases nationwide have met with similar success, Lambert said.
"There has never been a successful court challenge to any regulation of the Internet prohibiting child pornography," he said.
Thomas and his wife were already under a federal grand jury indictment in Memphis when an informant told Utah authorities of the availability of child pornography on Thomas' Amateur Action BBS.
According to Lambert, Thomas was making the images available to BBS subscribers from his Milpitas, Calif., home. Court records indicate that Thomas was earning as much as $30,000 per month by charging subscribers a fee for six months of access to the service with the right to download three images per day.
Acting on the tip, law enforcement officers in Utah accessed Thomas' BBS and discovered images of children engaged in sexual conduct, Lambert said. The evidence was presented to a federal grand jury in 1994, which handed up a 16-count felony indictment. Thomas agreed in January to plead guilty to one count.
The sentence imposed Tuesday afternoon by U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins allows Thomas to serve part of the 26-month prison term concurrently with the earlier sentence from Tennessee. He is being held in a federal prison in Springfield, Mo.
Following the court action, Lambert said the commercial market for child pornography is feeding the sexual exploitation of children.
"The consumers of this kind of material themselves have a problem, a serious problem," Lambert said. "They have a sexual interest in children, and when it's acted out, we have child abuse and children who are seriously damaged."