By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
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By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
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By Erin Sherbert
In a collaborative and involved selection process, inspector Dirmeyer chose four of the most explicit kinky videos on the list and, according to his testimony, asked Thomas to select two more of his own choosing. In a key letter that accompanied his check for $204, Dirmeyer, posing as Lance White, wrote:
"In addition, please select two of your favorite 'junior teen' videos. I want the youngest you have. Please select two that have sweet looking girls showing everything (spreading) if possible ... I also have some action mags that you might be interested in. Let me know."
The videos, which would be shown in their entirety to the Memphis courtroom, would form the basis of three counts of obscenity charged against the Thomases.
The videotapes were mostly pirated copies of European hardcore films, many of which Thomas told the court he purchased in San Francisco adult bookstores. A typical San Francisco jury probably wouldn't be offended by the orgy or golden-shower videos -- in fact, some jurors might not be seeing them for the first time. But the savage misogyny of the bondage and torture videos, coupled with Thomas' gleeful description of the action -- would disgust even the most ardent civil libertarians (see sidebar).
With the videotapes in hand, Dirmeyer already had enough material against the Thomases to go to trial -- at least in Memphis. But the dogged postal inspector made continued offers to the Thomases, which might deliver the knockout punch -- a child-pornography charge. The fact that Robert Thomas showed no particular interest in child pornography (and protests to this day that AABBS forbade members from discussing kiddie porn online) didn't seem to bother Dirmeyer. With a kiddie-porn conviction, the Thomases would be going away for a long, long time.
"If, as a prosecutor, I can say you're a purveyor of child porn, then basically you become scum of the earth, and whatever we do to you is okay," says defense attorney Williams.
The only snag in Dirmeyer's plan was that Robert Thomas wasn't responding to the kiddie-porn offer. The crusading postal inspector wrote to Thomas again, ordering two more hardcore videos and reminding him of his earlier offer about "action mags":
"Robert, I mentioned in our earlier correspondence that I have some mags you might be interested in. They are hardcore sex magazines featuring young girls having sex with adults and other children. These magazines were hard to come by and are very special to me. I am willing to let you borrow them so you can scan whatever pictures you want for your private collection. All I ask is that you return the mags to me (with a copy of the GIFs) when you are finished."
Still, Thomas did not reply to the offer. Perhaps he chose to ignore the deal because he was fearful of putting his business at risk. More likely, Thomas was so busy signing up new members, troubleshooting his equipment and madly scanning photos to post on his bulletin board that he didn't have time to take up Lance White on his generous offer.
But Lance White was not about to take no for an answer. Several weeks later, Dirmeyer e-mailed Robert Thomas:
"Robert, enjoying the tapes. You did not respond to my offer to loan you my mags for your review. Are you still interested? Sincerely, Lance."
It's interesting to note that Dirmeyer asks Thomas if he's "still interested" in the kiddie porn, when Thomas had demonstrated no interest in the magazines -- only Dirmeyer had. But finally, Thomas yielded to Dirmeyer's advances. In the chat mode, Thomas electronically wrote to White:
"Got your note about the mags. Please send them if you wish, and I can trade you for their use, okay?"
This hardly sounds like the pantings of a lecherous purveyor of kiddie porn, but for Dirmeyer, it was good enough for government work. Dirmeyer dutifully sent Thomas three dog-eared kiddie-porn magazines seized from a previous investigation: Lolita Color Special 6, Lolita Color Special 18 and Little Girls Fuck Too. Perhaps knowing firsthand the vagaries of the U.S. mails, Dirmeyer dispatched the magazines by UPS.
On January 10, 1994, Carleen Thomas -- whose involvement with her husband's bulletin board seemed to be largely administrative -- went to a Milpitas Mail Boxes Etc. outlet to fetch the AABBS mail. Dirmeyer, who had flown in from Memphis, was tailing her, accompanied by two officers from the San Jose Police Department's High Tech Crime Detail Unit. Carleen Thomas retrieved the mail -- including the package of kiddie porn -- and drove to the couple's nearby home. Minutes later, Dirmeyer, armed with a search warrant, busted the couple for accepting a controlled delivery of child pornography.
After an extensive search of the premises, the officers seized all of Thomas' computer equipment, which included a half dozen 486/66MHz 8-meg computers wired to 32 high-speed U.S. Robotics modems. Each system's hard drive -- containing personal information about bulletin board members -- was seized and taken away to be copied. The files were so extensive, in fact, that High Tech Crime Detail Unit needed five days to copy the entire system, using borrowed equipment and working around the clock.