The ADULT WEBMASTER Magazine
Adult industry photographer and content provider Mike Jones was attending a regional adult industry conference in Chicago back in 2000 when his life and business were suddenly thrown into disarray. Mike was attending the conference to promote
his adult content site, CDbabes.com. His attorney, J.D. Obenberger of xxxLaw.net, was also attending the gathering. The event started off well enough, but Mike’s day was about to take a serious turn for the worse.
Obenberger was right next to Mike when the phone rings: He picks it up and he’s talking to a member of his family and he goes ashen and then his eyes just go completely catatonic, and it was somebody back at his house telling him that
the police were all over his house and they were breaking the door in at his studios.”
Let’s back up for a moment. Mike Jones got started in the adult photography business back in the 1990’s. Photography had been Mike’s hobby for years, but the opportunities created by the mainstream’s arrival to the Internet suddenly provided
Mike with a chance to take his hobby to a more professional level. His wife was not only aware of Mike’s business and supportive of his work, but she also was an active part of his business operations. Mike was well liked by those in the adult
industry who knew him, and it seemed his business was off to a great start.
The village of Greenwood was a small village, however, and some people who lived there had old-fashioned, small town values. When a local woman with a history of initiating legal disputes against the village learned that Mike was operating
an adult business, she quickly decided that she wanted Mike to leave the area; she took her objections about Mike’s presence to an acquaintance, who according to police reports that would later come out at court hearings, then began making calls
to law enforcement to complain about Mike’s business and urge the local sheriff’s office to act.
Sometime before the police raided Mike’s home and studio, they paid him a visit to inquire about allegations they had received from parties, then undisclosed, that Mike might be taking nude pictures of underage girls. “When the police first
came, they told me that it was an anonymous report that came in through Crime Stoppers, and they were investigating it,” explains Jones. “
Having nothing to hide, Mike invited the officers in to his home, sat them down, and explained to them candidly what he did for a living. The officers seemed to be unaware of the record-keeping requirements set forth by 18 U.S.C. § 2257, so
Mike explained that he kept age verification documents for all models that he shot, along with a signed model release. I told them that if they ever had a question about any of the performers, on any of our Web sites or on CD Babes, that they
could feel free to come back to my house at any time and I would provide them with the information on the performer, copies of her ID, etc.
Mike’s explanation seemed to satisfy the officers, and when they left his home that day it appeared to all that the misunderstanding had been settled. In fact, the investigating officer closed the case in June of that year concluding that the
accusations of child pornography were unfounded. Yet the locals who were intent on seeing Mike’s business shut down would call the sheriff’s office again, and even go so far as to convince the village attorney to call and suggest Mike be considered
for charges of obscenity for some BDSM images that he sold through his adult content business.
When the police showed back up at Mike’s home for a second visit a few months after their initial visit, this time with a search warrant, it quickly became apparent that all hadn’t been settled as was previously thought, and that Mike Jones
was in for a legal fight for his business, and for his very freedom.
The raid on Mike’s home occurred at a time when no adult was present to protect his teenage daughter and young son from a barrage of explicit questions from law enforcement officers. Mike’s fourteen year-old daughter, her boyfriend and his
eleven year-old son at the house alone when the police arrived. With no adults to object, the invading officers took Mike’s daughter and son aside and asked them all kind of explicit questions.
They were asking [my children] questions like, do you do nudie pictures for your daddy? Have you ever posed naked for your daddy? Have you ever had sex for your daddy? Have you ever been pregnant? Have you ever had an abortion? Have you
ever been married? Have you ever been divorced? That’s what they asked a fourteen year-old girl.
By the time Mike arrived back at his house, the police had left his home but were still going through his studio. The police took everything they could get their hands on that might store information about Mike’s business, even sifting through
his daughter’s personal bedroom and taking her personal computer that she used for homework. They took financial records, and they also took adult video tapes that were for personal use.
Just down the road at Mike’s photography studio, another group of officers kicked in the door and seized all kinds of items including business records, photographs, floppy discs, computer equipment, CDs and more. They completely shut him down,
he had no way to do email except the laptop that he had taken with him to the show. After about ten days, a portion of the materials that had been taken were returned to Mike, but much of his equipment was not returned – his primary business computer
remains in police custody to this day.
Mike Jones was eventually arrested and charged with two crimes: distribution of obscene materials, and possession of child pornography. It was the second charge that would ultimately mean hard times for Mike’s business, CD Babes.
The charge of child porn actually was not related to Mike’s business at all. After seizing Mike’s work computer, investigators scoured its hard drive with forensics software designed to recover deleted files. Investigators found several images
that they believed could be child pornography. The images were small thumbnail images found in an Internet browser’s cache folder; all of the images had filenames that started with “TN”, and all were downloaded in less than one minute at about
4:57 on August 5, 2000. The images had already been deleted. There was no evidence that Mike had ever sought out child porn, or intentionally stored it on his computer, or was even ever aware that the small thumbnail files had existed at all. No
larger counterparts to these thumbnail images were ever recovered.
As for the charges of obscenity, that was an idea passed on to the sheriff’s department from the local village attorney, Anthony Nettis. Once it became clear that Mike wasn’t guilty of photographing underage girls, the issue of obscenity was
indeed considered. An Illinois grand jury would eventually be asked to decide if Mike should be tried on charges of obscenity based on several explicit BDSM images that were pulled from his Web site; while the facts that were presented to the grand
jury are confidential, and its understanding of obscenity law unknown, it was the grand jury’s ultimate decision that the state should proceed with charges of obscenity against Mike, as well as charges of possessing child pornography.
It would eventually turn out that law enforcement had made a number of mistakes in their investigation of Mike and his business. Proving to be a pivotal issue in Mike’s subsequent court hearings, law enforcement officers used questionable and
overly broad methods in obtaining and carrying out the search warrant.
In order to obtain a search warrant, a law enforcement investigator took several pictures of legal-aged nude models off of Mike’s Web site (not to be confused with the thumbnail images that would later be found) and took them to a local emergency
room doctor and asked for a professional opinion as to the age of the girls in the pictures. The doctor’s flawed age estimate proved to be enough for investigators to get a search warrant. They got a very broad warrant authorizing them to
take everything , says Obenberger. “
Mike’s court battle has lasted for three and a half years, an awful long time to live in fear of a possible negative outcome in court. Fortunately for Mike Jones, the judge assigned to his case was fair and willing to listen to the facts of
the case and abide strictly by the letter of the law.
The judge was very fair, says Jones. She did her job. She upheld the law … she was always very straight and very fair.
After several procedural hurdles, Mike’s attorneys filed a motion with the court to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the broad search warrant. “Reed Lee [Obenberger’s associate] and I collaborated on the motion to suppress itself,
and the hearing I did most of it, [Lee] cross-examined the forensic computer analyst, and then Reed substantially wrote the brief after the hearing,” explains Obenberger.
Last week the motion to suppress was granted in court, leaving the prosecution without any of the evidence it had obtained through the search of Mike’s home and studio. That of course included the recovered thumbnail images that were the basis
of the child pornography charges. The state then dropped the prosecution.
Having sold CDbabes.com in December of last year, Mike now finds himself trying to pick up the pieces and start over. He and his family moved out of Greenwood, the damage having already been done.
For adult Webmasters, the story of Mike Jones serves both as a cautionary tale, and, if charges are officially dropped as expected, as an inspirational tale. It’s a cautionary tale because it warns adult Webmasters that the adult industry brings
legal risks. Anyone who works in the adult entertainment business needs to be aware of his or her legal risks prior to publishing adult works in any public medium. Having a business relationship with a capable adult industry attorney is vital.
Webmasters need to keep impeccable records documenting the age of any models appearing in any sexually explicit images that they might publish. Even accidents and misunderstandings can lead to charges of child porn, an accusation that can destroy
an individual’s business and reputation.