WASHINGTON - Clarence Thomas Gartman, 35, and his brother-in-law, former Houston Police Officer Brent Alan McDowell, 37, were sentenced today in Dallas, announced Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher for the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper for the Northern District of Texas. The Honorable U.S. Senior District Judge Barefoot Sanders sentenced Gartman to 34 months in prison and McDowell to 30 months in prison. Both Gartman and McDowell were ordered to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on August 24, 2006.
Following a five-day jury trial in Dallas in March 2006, Gartman and McDowell were each found guilty of one count of Mailing Obscene Material and Aiding and Abetting. Gartman was found guilty of an additional count of Conspiracy to Mail Obscene Material.
The case was initially investigated by the Dallas Police Department after they received a tip from a German citizen who told them that a site selling rape videos was registered to a Garry Ragsdale. At that time, Garry Ragsdale was a Dallas Police Department officer. The Dallas Police Department Vice Squad requested assistance, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service joined with the Dallas Police Department in the investigation which resulted in the federal charges. Gartman and McDowell’s activities were discovered while investigating the site activities of Garry Layne Ragsdale and his wife, Tamara Michelle Ragsdale. Gartman and the Ragsdales were partners in a business distributing obscene videos until a dispute arose between them, in early 1998, which dissolved the partnership. The Ragsdales were convicted in federal court in Dallas on Oct. 23, 2003, on obscenity charges related to the obscene video business they conducted after their partnership with Gartman ended. On March 5, 2004, U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater sentenced Garry Ragsdale to 33 months in prison and Tamara Ragsdale to 30 months in prison. Their convictions were upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
“As shown in the sentences imposed today by Judge Sanders, law enforcement will bring to justice those who engage in the commercial distribution of obscene materials,” said U.S. Attorney Roper.
The government provided evidence at trial that beginning in 1998, Gartman and McDowell maintained a site on the Internet, forbiddenvideos.com. The site was used to advertise and distribute obscene videos by VHS cassettes, CDs, and streaming video, depicting rape scenes, sexual torture and other explicit sex acts. The obscene videos ordered from the site were initially sent by U.S. mail from locations within the Northern District of Texas. Later, the defendants also distributed the obscene videos through a collection of sites managed from the Northern District and elsewhere, which enabled customers in the United States, and throughout the world, to download obscene digital video images or to view digital streaming video. Customers of the forbiddenvideos.com site, or related sites, would place orders and pay for the obscene material with a credit card.
Obscenity has a three part definition under U.S. law. To find a matter “obscene,” the jury was required to apply contemporary community standards to satisfy a three-part test: (1) that the work as a whole is an appeal predominantly to prurient interest; (2) that it depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and (3) that the material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. An appeal to “prurient” interest is an appeal to a morbid, degrading, and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex. This three-part test is a result of rulings by the United States Supreme Court in 1973 and 1976.
U. S. Attorney Roper praised the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Dallas Police Department Vice Squad. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Linda C. Groves and DOJ Obscenity Prosecution Task Force Trial Attorney Richard D. Green.