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Maker of porn films gets 4 years in prison in federal obscenity case

Ira Isaacs with attorney Roger Diamond in 2008.

A Los Angeles-based creator of pornographic fetish films was sentenced to four years in federal prison Wednesday for producing and selling obscene material.

Ira Isaacs, 61, received the sentence after a six-year prosecution that included two mistrials and led to the public admonishment of federal Judge Alex Kozinski, who recused himself from the proceedings after a Times investigation found that he placed pornographic images on an Internet server that could be accessed by the public. Kozinski is the chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Doing business under the name L.A. Media, Isaacs produced, starred in, and distributed pornographic films through a website he advertised as "the Web's largest fetish VHS, DVD superstore." Some of his films, which depict bestiality and sexual situations involving human excrement, were shown to the jury during his third trial last April.

Although the defense argued that Isaacs' work was protected by the 1st Amendment, there was a general consensus about the appeal of the films, which had titles such as "Hollywood Scat Amateurs No. 7."

"They were so disgusting I couldn't even watch them," said Isaacs' attorney Roger Diamond, who said he averted his eyes and read a book as the 90-minute films were played in court. "But that doesn't mean they're not free speech."

Isaacs said his films were supposed to shock and disgust people in a way that deconstructs their conception of art. He turned down a plea bargain that would have saved him from incarceration and said he had no regrets.

"It makes people think, 'What is art? Can art be gross?' " he said.

According to federal law, material must meet a three-part test to be considered criminally obscene: It must appeal to prurient interest, lack scientific, artistic and political value and be patently offensive.

Prosecutor Michael Grant said Isaacs had never mentioned artistic intentions until he was in front of a court. 

"Since 1999, he has operated a business with one goal in mind: make money off of individuals that enjoy sick materials," Grant said in court.

Diamond asked the judge to lighten the sentence to probation because he said Isaacs had accepted responsibility for his crimes.

But Judge George H. King, who presided over the case, said Isaacs had sought to "cloak himself" in the 1st Amendment with a "cynical post-hoc justification" and was not "a defender of the 1st Amendment."

Addressing Isaacs directly, King said, "You are an abuser of the 1st Amendment. You cheapen the 1st Amendment."

King said that because Isaacs continued selling the films, even plugging his website on a radio show two days after his conviction, incarceration was a necessary "deterrent." Isaacs must also pay more than $10,000 in fines, as well as submit to community supervision for three years after his release from prison.

Isaacs was asked to report to federal authorities by Feb. 19, but he plans to file an appeal. Clad in a fedora and a baggy gray suit after the sentencing, he appeared unfazed by the prospect of prison time. 

"That's the Academy Award I just won in there," Isaacs said. "That's an artist's dream."

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-- Frank Shyong

Photo: Ira Isaacs with attorney Roger Diamond in 2008. Credit: Ric Francis / Associated Press

 
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