Obscenity Ban Fails, Zoning Plan OKd in Montana

Rhett Pardon
BILLINGS, Mont. — Voters in Yellowstone County last week defeated a proposed ordinance that would criminalize “obscenity” made available to one or more people of any age.

The proposal was sweeping, targeting adult entertainment available in publications, videos, strip clubs and perhaps the Internet, depending how county attorneys would have interpreted the now-shot down measure.

“We have a very educated group of voters, and it appears that the obscenity ordinance is something that they didn’t want,” John Ostlund, chairman of the Yellowstone County commissioners, told the Billings Gazette.

Voters rejected the obscenity ordinance by a 56 to 44 percent margin, with 15,314 voting no and 12,064 in favor.

Despite the region’s “live and let live” mentality, Yellowstone County has been a focus point for federal obscenity prosecutions.

Earlier this year, adult distributor Sanford Wasserman was sentenced by a federal judge to five years in prison without the possibility of parole for conspiring to distribute obscene videotapes.

Wasserman, who sold such videos as “Physically Raped,” “Anything Goes” and “Rape and Sodomize,” conspired with Thomas Lambert of Montana to distribute videos through FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service, prosecutors said.

It was the second offense for Wasserman, who had been convicted of distributing obscene materials in Texas during 2001. Lambert last year pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

Wasserman and Lambert ran their business from 1998 to 2002 under several company names, including Pet Tec, the PT Co., Digital Technology, New Technology and Brightstar.

In court transcripts, prosecutors characterized some of the videotapes, which were available through mail-order catalogs, as depicting bestiality, gang rapes and sex involving urination, defecation and sadistic and masochistic conduct.

Meanwhile, a companion ordinance that uses the county’s zoning regulations to restrict the operations of strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses was approved by a narrow margin. That ordinance was approved by a 425-vote margin, with 13,612 in favor, 13,187 opposed.

The new regulations impose numerous restrictions. Performers in strip clubs will be required to remain at least 9 feet away from spectators and video viewing booths in adult arcades won’t be allowed to have doors.