In a strong new effort to combat the rapid expansion and growing explicitness of sexually oriented bookstores, movie houses and massage parlors here, local and federal officials have sharply increased their efforts to find the often hidden owners of these establishments and investigate suspected links to organized crime.
Investigating officials say they want to keep the image of the Washington area from being tarnished by what they term a rising tide of hard-core "triple X" pornography. The recent profileration of small pornographic business establishments making thousands of dollars a day each has been aided, police say, by an atmosphere of permissiveness created by pro-civil liberties court decisions.
The strongest new investigation has been launched in the District of Columbia. For the past several months the D.C. police department's organized crime has been quietly amassing extensive intelligence and records on the ownership of the city's more than 30 adult bookstores. 15 massage establishments and other establishments including movie houses. Many are located in key downtown areas where large new commercial development is expected in the next few years.
On Friday D.C. Police Chief Maurice Cullinane led city officials on an unannounced tour of downtown sex shops. Afterwards, Cullinane said he was deeply shocked by what he saw and was launching a "major campaign" against the establishments. With him on the tour were U.S. Attorney Earl Silbert and top mayoral aide Julian Dugas.
The officials took their tour on the same time that the D.C. Zoning Commission voted on Friday to establish stiff, new zoning rules that would virtually prohibit the establishment of new adult bookstores and other sexually oriented businesses throughout most of Washington.
At the same time, Prosecutors and police in several suburban jurisdictions have been pressing campaigns against alleged pornography in response to public outcry. In Virginia, Arlington County shut down nearly a dozen massage parlors last year. And Fairfax County officials have enacted zoning regulations that effectively prevent the opening of new pornographic establishments and have imposed fines on owners of existing businesses.
In many cases, the investigations have so far uncovered owners already known to police from past arrests and prosecutions or a nearly impenetrable tangles of flase and misleading ownership information that police think shields the real owners. "We're tired of finding only the 80-year-old projectionists and clerks when we execute a search warrant," said one official. "We want to know who's getting the money."
In many cases, police said, the employees themselves do not know exactly who they are working for. They receive their compensation in untraceable cash or - in one case - by checks drawn on a local bank and signed with an illegible name.
One police investigator said that several downtown Washington adult bookstores have been found to be actually owned by Bon-Jay Sales Inc. of Baltimore, a wholesale pornography distributor with $3.5 million in annual sales throughout the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. Maryland law enforcement official to say Bon-Jay, which they are investigating for links to organized crime, is one of the three largest suppliers of sexual literature on the East Coast.
While police interest has been focused on the owners of the porno and nude dancing establishments themselves, a survey by The WAashington Post shows that the buildings are in many cases owned by prominent citizens, including Washington lawyer James L. Bierbower: Agostino BUttinelli, the pwner of Gusti's restaurant; the Rothberg family that owns Central Liquors, and Oscar I. Dodek, a retail clothing executive and the founder of Downtown Park and Shop.
A District police source said there is "no reason" to investigate the owners of the buildings and land since there are no suspicions that the relationship between them and the owners of the establishments is other than that of the normal landlord-tenant variety.
In instances investigated by The Post, the owners of the buildings were found to be acting in a leasing or renting capacity only and had nothing to do with the actual operation of the pornographic establishments.
D.C. police officials said the effort was prompted by concern about a new, hard-core explicitness in the pornographic materials now available, fears that organized crime may be moving into the city and, generally, the law enorcement community's frustration in attempting to find the elusive "real owners" of the sex shops during past raids of bookstores and movie houses.
One official said police have discovered instances where owners of record do not even exist or where persons listed as owners actually were not the owners. This source said the D.C. police effort, inwhich FBI agents have helped analyze data, is not necessarily aimed towards specific criminal prosecution but is more "an intelligence collection project."
The source said the effort has included investigation of every aspect of the sex shops, including sales, distribution, the supplying of the peepshow machines and books, the collection of money and even carpentry work done in the stores.
Silbert said the purpose of Friday's tour was to evaluate the current state of pornography here at the police department's request. He said he shars Cullinane's concern about the deterioration of neighborhoods caused by the presence of sex shops, which had once been mainly located in the old down-town area along 9th and 14th Streets NW but to which have more recently spread to Adams-Morgan, Georgetown, Tenley Circle and other residential areas of the city.
Silbert, whose U.S. Attorney's Office is in charge of handling any prosecutions that might result here, told the group on Friday that a review of approaches to pornography in other jurisdictions should be undertaken to find the most successful approach.
Silbert said his office generally prosecutes only the most extreme forms of pornography, such as films involving children and animals. Recent prosecutions have involved Walter F. Riggin, who owns a pornographic book store near the intersection of the 18th Street and Columbia Road NW and who has past convictions for obstruction of justice, among other crimes; and Mickey Zeffarano, owner of the D.C. Playhouse movie house.
The subject of pornography has been a delicate one for officials here because of the split between local and federal jurisdictions and because of the fears of violating civil liberties generally, officials said. The prosecutions are also time-consuming and involve a "victimless crime" - all of which has tended to limit official enthusiasm in the past.
But D.C. police detective Tony P. Drouillard of the morals division, who led Friday's tour, said that official interest has been sparked by "the degree of what they(some shops) have gone into. First it's just simple sexual intercourse, then bondage, sadomasochism, children in pornography."
The sex shop business in Washington goes back for decades and its forefront has been a series of often colorful, controversial figures like Herman L. Womack, a one-time philosophy professor at George Washington University who was convicted by a federal jury in 1971 of publishing obscene magazines.
Police said Womack used to own stores in the city and perhaps still does. Fairfax County's Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan said that Womack and Dennis E. Pryba, another long-time controversial porno store owner in the area, may own three sexually oriented bookstores that Horan is now investigating.
Police spokesman Betty Bosarge said it took Horan and the police six weeks to trace the ownership of the bookstores. She said they were hidden behind layers of "front" people that police think are either not the real owners or else don't exist.
Neighbors in the area of one of the Fairfax bookstores, located in the Glen Forest Shopping Center are upset about its presence and the owner of the shopping center, Mrs L.M.Dominguez, is fighting to evict the store, according to one neighbour. "It was misrepresented to her (Dominguez) as a family bookstore," said the neighbor.
Dominguez's victories in a local court and the Virginia Supreme Court are being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the bookstore owners, according to the police spokesperson. Dominguez said her attorney advised her not to discuss the situation.
The police have recorded the Fairfax bookstores several times, and the owners have been accused of showing obscene films. The spokeswoman said the stores have been fined a total of $25,000 but are still operating.
In Prince George's County, State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. said that the "only big names" in sexually oriented bookstores are Womack and Pryba. One pornography sales charge is pending against Pryba in the county and is scheduled to come to trial shortly, Marshall said, although Womack has not been prosecuted there.
In Arlington County, an undercover investigation of nearly a dozen massage parlors was conducted in the spring of 1976 and resulted in nine of the owners being charged with "operating a bawdy house." All the owners pleaded guilty and a total of $4,000 in fines was collected, with two owners going to jail for two weeks. All the parlors were shut down.
D.C. detective Drouillard said that the bookstores are enormously profitable. "I've known to where they'll collect as much as $3,000 a day," he said. He also said that the stores are not required to pay taxes on the proceeds from the peep-show machines, which mostly take quarters to show a small individual sex film.
At a Silver Spring adult bookstore on Georgia Avenue yesteday a cashier said he had worked there eight months but didn't know the name of the store owner or manager. He said he got his job through a newspaper advertisement after he had talked to an anonymous man on the telephone. The man told him to come to the store and fill out an application. He did so, and later received a call from the man telling him to come to work.
The cashier said he receives a paycheck that is stuck in the cash register every Friday. He said the signature on the check is made with a rubber stamp but is scrawled in such a fashion that he cannot decipher the name.
Drouillard, the District morals detective, said that the number of sexually oriented bookstores in the city has increased to more than 30 from less than half that number only a few years ago. He estimated that the number of peep show machines has increased from 200 at that time to about 700 today.
Housed in aging buildings, some of the shops in Washington's prestigious pasts. It was at 1219 I St. NW, for instance, that Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1886 wrote her famous novel, Little Lord Fauntleroy." Movie producer David O. Selznick had a plaque erected at that site in commemoration in 1936. Today the building is the location for sales of sexually oriented "magazines, movies, rubber goods and novelties."
Some owners of buildings rented out to sex shops expressed surprise to hear that their tenants were operators of pornographic establishments.
"That's not really pornographic," said Oscar I. Dodek, a founder of the Downtown Park & Shop organization who owns the building at 412 10th St. NW, currently occupied by an "adults only" book and novelty shop.
"It's been there seven or eight years, but I've never been in there," said Dodek, who helped found Down-town park & Shop in 1955 to provide free parking to downtown shoppers. He is also owner of D.J. Kauffman, a men's clothing store.
"When I first started renting the place it was just for selling magazines and books," Dodek recalled. I have noticed they have a sign now forbidding minors, so I assume they must be selling periodicals that are more X-rated. But I've never heard a complaint from the neighbors. To me it's just another bookstore."
Another cluster of porno shops is located on the North west corner of 14th and H Streets NW. The owners, William Platt and Robert Holtzman, rent the facilities to several shops, among them the Casino Royale x-rated movie theater, the Le Salon combination gay bookstore and theater, the Paradise escort and model service, and the Olympic Baths.
Platt and Holtzman have three partners who own the building at 1401 H St. where the shops are housed. The partnership had purchased the property about three years ago in an unsuccessful attempt to put together a land package for a planned building. When they could acquire adjacent buildings, the partners leased out 1401 H. St.
Another owner of property leased to pornographic shops is Central Liquor Store, Inc., operated by the Rothberg family. The liquor store is located at 518 9th St. NW near buildings that house the Gayety Burlesk and a topless restaurant at 503 and 504 9th St. respectively.
Herbert Rothberg, operator of his family's liquor store business, said the corporation bought both those buildings almost by accident. The store had been trying for years to buy the building it leases at 518 9th St. NW, he said. Needing more space, the family decided to buy the property down the street, "like buying insurance."
Shortly after the property was purchased, Rothberg said, the store's owners decided to sell after all. Suddenly, he said, Central Liquor owned not only its own building but two others. He said his firm has "nothing to do with the businesses" at the other sites, which he said have a few years left on their leases.
Restaurateur Buttinelli owns the building leased to the Adam & Eve Bookstore at 815 14th St. It advertises "exotic books and magazines." Sexual implements are easily visible from the street from a door that was propped open yesterday.TAsked about the city's policy concerning pornographic shops, city planner Jojn Fondersmith said the new zoning restrictions were adopted Friday "to keep them from proliferating."
The idea, said Fondersmith, who works for the Municipal Planning Office, "is not to put the existing ones out of business but to stop them from spreading."
Fondersmith said the city had studied two approaches to the problem, including one that would set up an enclave for such activities such as exists in Boston. But the city decided "this was not appropriate for Washington," he said.
"The other approach is to spread them out and lessen the effect on them," Fondersmith said. "The feeling is that constitutionally you can't just shut them down."
Fondersmith noted that many of the existing pornographic shops downtown are in places "where development will eventually move in and displace them." He said the area where most of the pornographic shops operate was "turned into an entertainment area in the early 1950's but it used to have a different character."
Some people, Fondersmith said, "think the bus station contributes to the proliferation of porno shops but I tend to think it's more the result of suburban people com ing in."