Sex film star Traci Lords' agent and two producers who allegedly propelled her to blue movie fame at the age of 16 were indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles on Thursday in the first prosecution against commercial film producers under federal child pornography laws.
James Marvin Souter Jr., 47, the man who allegedly hired Lords through his World Modeling Agency in 1984 for the film, "Those Young Girls," is charged with producers Ronald Rene Kantor, 40, and Rupert Sebastian Macnee, 39, with violating the federal law prohibiting the use of minors in sexually explicit films.
The indictment is likely to be the first of several against producers of the more than 70 hard-core films in which Nora Kuzma, a teen-ager who migrated to Los Angeles from a small town in Ohio, won national attention as Traci Lords, U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner told a news conference.
While the current multiagency investigation is directed primarily at producers and distributors of films in which Lords appeared, federal authorities also confirmed that they are looking into Penthouse magazine's use of Lords' photograph as its centerfold in September, 1984.
"This indictment reflects our determination to vigorously enforce the law that prohibits the use of minors in hard-core pornographic films; films that show minors engaged in sexual acts," Bonner said. "We hope that the message will go out loud and clear to the pornographic film industry that if they do use minors in their productions, they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
The three men face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine if convicted.
Lords, now 18, who "in the broadest sense . . . was unquestionably a victim," will not be charged, Bonner said.
The investigation against Souter, a Thousand Oaks resident, and Macnee and Kantor, both of Los Angeles, was first launched by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
But while state child pornography laws require some proof that film producers and distributors knew they were using a minor, there is no such requirement under federal law, presumably easing such prosecutions.
John Weston, an attorney for the Adult Film and Video Assn. of America who is representing Macnee and Kantor, said the federal law's strict liability requirement is probably unconstitutional because it is too broad.
Past U.S. Supreme Court rulings seem to require that the film producers must have had actual knowledge that Lords was underage or recklessly disregarded knowledge that she was a minor, Weston said.
"Traci Lords made scores and scores of films and videotapes in a short period of time. And if one looks at her films, her photographs or talks to the people who knew her, nobody would have had any doubt that she was not what she purported to be," he said.
Lords produced identification from the state Department of Motor Vehicles indicating that she was 20 at the time of the filming, the lawyer said.
Weston also questioned the federal government's decision to prosecute his clients when no indictment has been returned against the publishers of Penthouse.
"Surely, the government had people either formally or informally looking at Traci Lords' centerfold," he said. " . . . If the government was not stimulated to go investigate (Penthouse) because of the age of this person, it seems very highly unfair to at this juncture smugly indict people for allegedly being just as fooled as the government was."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Charles Stevens, who is prosecuting the present case, said, "Anybody that's used Traci Lords is a target in this investigation. . . . If Penthouse used her, Penthouse would be a target."
But the federal child pornography law is aimed at explicit sexual material, and the films in which Lords appeared are "much more graphic than anything depicted in magazines, including Penthouse," Stevens said.
Weston said the adult film and video industry for the most part voluntarily removed Lords' films from sales shelves when questions about her age first surfaced last year.
"The announcement of the indictment today suggests that the responsible actions of the industry were apparently deemed to not be enough," he said.
Souter acted as Lords' agent for many of her films after she responded to a newspaper advertisement for his modeling agency, Bonner said.
Souter was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies Wednesday on pandering charges in connection with performers he allegedly supplied for another pornographic film.
The three men are scheduled for arraignment on March 23.