TAMPA — The pornographer tried to apologize.
His voice shook. He sounded as if he'd cry.
"I didn't realize I'd made a mistake," Hollywood hardcore producer Paul Little told the judge Friday. "My entire life I've been trying to do the right thing by people and by the law."
Senior U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew interrupted him.
"Mr. Little, I find this almost incredible," she said. "You seem to look at this whole thing as a big joke."
Bucklew sentenced the man known as Max Hardcore to 3 years and 10 months in federal prison for selling and distributing his messy, sometimes violent videos in Tampa. She also made him forfeit three Web sites, fined him $7,500, ordered him to face three years of probation after his prison sentence and fined his company, Max World Entertainment, $75,000.
Tampa jurors convicted Little in June on 10 counts of selling obscene material on the Internet and 10 counts of shipping it to Tampa through the U.S. mail.
They reached that decision after watching 8 1/2 hours of extreme porn on a giant screen in court. At times, they winced as Little performed in sex scenes that included urinating and vomiting.
After nearly two weeks of trial and roughly 12 hours of deliberations, jurors decided that what they had seen went beyond the Tampa Bay region's community standards.
Little's attorneys, who argued his films were protected by the First Amendment, said they plan to appeal.
Little, whose net worth was determined by the government to be near $1.4-million, said his business has suffered since his conviction in June.
"It's cost me just about everything I've made," he said. "All of my money is gone. I've suffered a great deal here."
"Are you saying you're not in business?" Bucklew asked.
"I'm barely in business," he said. "It's on life support."
Little apologized for offending the people of Florida.
"This is completely brand new," he said. "For many years we've made our movies thinking they were completely legal."
Bucklew's sentence was on the low end of the federal guidelines used in such cases. Little faced up to 57 months in prison, and the recommended range for fines was between $1.2- and $2.4-million.
"That would appear to be relatively reasonable under the circumstances if you assume that there is any crime for which he should have been sentenced at all," said Eric M. Freedman, professor of First Amendment law at Hofstra University, who wasn't involved with the trial.
Freedman said it's rare that obscenity cases make it to trial, and sentences vary.
A Colorado porn magnate convicted of federal obscenity charges was sentenced in 2006 to 13 months in prison and ordered to close his adult stores in Texas. A federal judge in 2005 sentenced a Florida man to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute obscene videotapes. An Arkansas man this year was sentenced to 14 months and fined $2,000 after he pleaded guilty to attempting to transfer obscene material to someone younger than 16.
Federal prosecutors wished to send a message to the purveyors of this type of pornography, at a time many small producers are pioneering new material with new technology.
"It becomes a race to the bottom, fueled by the vastness, the speed and the anonymity of the Internet," said Edward J. McAndrew, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8650.