‘Legal child porn’ comes under
Lawmaker targets Web sites featuring preteen ‘models’
By Mike Brunker
March 28, 2002 - The photos of 12-year-old “Amber” cavorting
in a swimsuit and various skimpy outfits wouldn’t have raised
so much as an eyebrow if they had been posted on a family home page.
But on lilamber.com
— one of a growing number of “preteen model” sites
operating in the legal gray area between innocent imagery and child
pornography — they have drawn the attention of the Justice
Department and prompted a congressman to declare war on the “reckless
endangerment” of such kids by their parents and Web site operators.
“This is an unacceptable way for a child to earn lunch money
… performing like a circus animal,” Rep. Mark Foley
said of the sites, which feature girls as young as 6 wearing revealing
clothing and striking sexually suggestive poses but display no nudity
or overt sexual material that would run afoul of child pornography
laws. “It sickens you that a parent would have such disregard
for their own child.”
Foley, R-Fla., was informed by the Justice Department earlier this
month that, at his request, it had instructed the FBI to review
the pre-teen sites in order to determine whether they are breaking
any laws. Foley also asked a House Judiciary subcommittee to hold
hearings on the subject, which would allow parents of the girls
and the Web site operators to be subpoenaed.
“Lil Amber,” the site that touched a raw nerve for Foley,
is one of dozens of preteen “model” sites that have
popped up on the Internet over the last few years.
Most customers are adults
There is ample evidence that the sites, which sell photos and videotapes
to members, cater primarily to adults, very few of whom are in the
market to hire models. Many — if not most — customers
are sexually interested in children, and some are pedophiles, according
to law enforcement officials and children’s advocates.
“This is legal child porn,” said Ken Lanning, a retired
FBI agent who studied deviant sexual behavior during most of his
30 years with the bureau. “It’s not against the law,
but it’s exciting and stimulating and arousing for people
with a certain deviant interest.”
Officials at Webe Web Inc., the Davie, Fla., Web-hosting company
behind a half-dozen pre-teen “model” sites, including
“Lil Amber,” have previously denied that the sites cater
to pedophiles or constitute child pornography. But after a rash
of bad publicity — including an investigation by NBC’s
Miami affiliate, WTVJ/NBC 6, that revealed many previously unreported
details about “Amber,” her family and the company —
they are no longer doing so.
“No one here is going to talk about it anymore,” said
a man who answered the phone at Webe Web’s offices but declined
to give his name.
'Mommy' defends site
But in an e-mail conversation between MSNBC.com and an individual
who says she is the mother of another pre-teen model known as “Jessi
the Kid,” the respondent said the site was created to help
her daughter fulfill her dream of becoming an actress and was no
more racy than ads for fashion lines such as Benetton that appear
every day in national publications. Furthermore, she said, the media
are focusing only on the revealing outfits and missing the other
material on the site geared to appeal to other kids.
“Our site is filled with so many wonderful things that any
kid would be happy to see and browse through,” said the respondent,
who signed her e-mail as “Mommy.” “Why are you
stuck on the few photos we have of her in her custom-made clothing?
Have you seen the great updates where she shows you how to make
an excellent salmon dish using only tinfoil to bake it with? What
about the very fun and informative software reviews that took her
months to put together? Any [of] her Yoga video/pics!??”
But fan discussion groups on Yahoo! and Internet news groups support
the contention that the child models’ most ardent fans are
adults, said Scott Zamost, a WTVJ producer who spent four months
investigating the “Lil Amber” site and Webe Web, which
also hosts several adult porn sites.
“You could tell by the postings that these weren’t kids
who were viewing the sites. Some people were posting poetry,”
Zamost said, adding that “Lil Amber’s” fan club
at one time had more than 9,000 members.
A chilling quip
Likewise, on an Internet news group for “girl-lovers,”
a subscriber who identified himself as “Rainbow” posted
a brief positive review of the new “Jessithekid” Web
site in December 1999, then signed off with this chilling quip:
“Anyone for 10-ish? (groan).”
Foley, who is co-founder of a congressional caucus devoted to issues
surrounding missing and exploited children, learned of the pre-teen
sites late last year when WTVJ asked about them.
“I was outraged when I first saw it because it’s being
passed off as some career-building opportunity or [raising money]
to apply for college,” he said, referring to statements on
several of the sites saying the proceeds will go toward the girls’
college educations. “To me, it borders on pornography and
After purchasing a membership to “Lil Amber” site, which
cost $25 for the first month and $19.95 a month thereafter, MSNBC.com
reviewed dozens of photos and purchased a videotape for an additional
amount to determine how far the site’s creators were willing
In all instances, the material stopped well short of what is popularly
considered child porn. The shots showed “Amber” (which
is not her real name) in bathing suits, short shorts and skimpy
halter tops, but never revealed any genitalia or her breasts. Some
of the photos were disturbing — such as one in which she appeared
to have been rolled in clay — but others could just as well
have been from a backyard birthday party.
MTV meets bad home movies
“Video #4 — Amber Models Summer Fashions” was
like a cross between MTV and bad home movies. “Amber”
spent most of the hourlong tape energetically dancing in front of
a fireplace in a living room, with a placard reading “Jesus”
and a family photo on the mantelpiece and a dog statuette alongside.
She “modeled” a dozen different outfits during the dance-a-thon,
apparently fashions that were requested or purchased by Web site
members. In one scene, she lifted her skirt, giving the briefest
glimpses of underwear. In another, the unidentified cameraman lay
on the floor and shot up her skirt as she danced away un-self-consciously.
That was as far as it went.
At another point in the videotape, an unidentified man whose face
was not shown presented her with a new Dell Computer and said, “This
was a gift from all your fans … 15 different people.”
Lanning, the retired FBI agent, reviewed a sampling of the photos
at MSNBC.com’s request and said that at least one conceivably
could considered child pornography under a 1994 decision by the
3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In that case, U.S. v. Knox, the court ruled that language in the
Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977 prohibiting
the “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area”
can include “non-nude depictions.” The court upheld
the conviction of defendant Stephen Knox on the grounds that videotapes
he had purchased showing children posing in leotards were marketed
as being sexually exciting.
But Lanning noted that even under that decision, which set precedent
only in the 3rd Circuit, prosecutors would have to prove “lascivious
intent” on the part of the parents or the Web site operators
for a successful prosecution. That would be particularly difficult
given that the pre-teens are being presented on the Web sites as
“models” rather than sexual objects.
Debbie Mahoney, CEO of Safeguarding Our Children — United
Mothers (SOCUM), an organization that aims to protect children from
pedophiles, says prosecutors also have an abundance of more clear-cut
cases to pursue.
“The is so much hard-core child pornography and so many pedophiles
on the Internet that when prosecutors see a kid like this, they
say, ‘It may be egregious, but it’s not child porn,
so let’s move on to something that we can prosecute,’”
But Rep. Foley said he intends to explore a new legal avenue —
whether the parents of the child models could be prosecuted under
“This is reckless endangerment if I’ve ever seen it
because you’re basically introducing your child to some really
sick people,” Foley told MSNBC.com this week.
Risk of pedophile stalkers?
Such laws vary from state to state, but in general that would require
a prosecutor to show that posing for the Web site would subject
a child to a “substantial risk of harm.” In the case
of the pre-teen sites, both potential physical harm from a pedophile
stalker and possible psychological trauma from being treated as
a sexual object could be considered, said Chris Paulitz, an aide
The idea that a stalker could track down a child model was bolstered
by the fact that Zamost and his WTVJ team were able to track down
“Amber” and her family, starting out with only a hint
from Webe Web co-founder Jeff Libman that she might live in Palm
Beach County and visual clues in the photos and videos in which
The girl’s mother and step-father declined a request for an
interview, but armed with their identities, the TV crew was able
to determine that the mother had been a porn performer on an adult
Web site several years earlier. Through court records, the crew
also was able to track down the girl’s father, who said he
was opposed to the site, Zamost said.
Study of risk urged
But anecdotal evidence like that likely would not be enough to persuade
a jury to convict on child endangerment charges, said Howard Davidson,
director of the American Bar Association’s Center for Children
and the Law.
“One would have to document the risks to children of engaging
in these modeling sites … rather than just be speculative
about the dangers,” he said. “If there had been cases
where kids had been sexually abused as a result of involvement,
then I think it would be easier to sustain both in the legislature
and, ultimately, in the courts.”
Such an approach also would raise raise serious First Amendment
concerns, said Kim Hart, director of the National Child Abuse Defense
and Resource Center.
“I think that we need to define child endangerment to make
sure that we’re not casting a really broad net,” she
said. “Does that mean that today we would charge Brooke Shields’
mother for ‘Blue Lagoon’?”
Hart, whose non-profit group seeks to ferret out cases of falsely
reported child abuse, also said that while modeling pictures such
as those on the “Lil Amber” site are distasteful, they
don’t necessarily equate with endangerment.
“Just because someone does something that you don’t
like, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t care
about their children,” she said. “… If you want
to check out the parents and make sure that the child is being clothed
and fed and going to school, fine.”
'Unsavory,' but not illegal
Stephen B. Levine, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve
University School of Medicine and an expert on sexuality, made a
“I think it’s reasonable to think that these sites are
pandering to pedophiliac interests ... and they are unsavory,”
he said. “But this is America, where we tolerate lots of unsavory
things for freedom of expression, and I don’t think we’re
willing to give up these freedoms.”
While the implications of the effort to crack down on the pre-teen
“model” sites will continue to be debated, the girl
known as Amber will no longer figure in the discussions.
She abruptly ended her career as an Internet “model”
in December with no explanation and was replaced with a new “Lil
Amber,” who bears more than a passing resemblance to the original.
A posting on a now-deactivated Yahoo! fan group states that “Amber
has passed on her legacy to a new model, 11-year-old Jana. ... Amber
supports this group ... and [has] authorized it as Jana’s
official fan group.”
Her successor doesn’t yet have her own video, but the “Lil
Amber” site promises that one is coming soon.
© 2005 MSNBC Interactive
© 2005 MSNBC.com
ANOTHER ARTICLE ABOUT SUBJECT
Parents: Can You Say, ‘My Daughter the Porn Star’? 7/17/2002Parents:
Can You Say, ‘My Daughter the Porn Star’?
Preteen ‘Models’ Being Marketed on the Internet
By Jan LaRue
Hardly a day passes without news of a pedophile using the Internet
for child pornography and soliciting sex with kids. A child is taken
from her home in the middle of the night and we read, “Police
are checking the computer for leads.” Quite often they find
evidence of e-mail and/or chat room interaction between the victim
and a sexual predator. Too often, we learn that the parents were
clueless about their child’s Internet habits. Some parents
learn about cyberspace evil the hard way.
Then there are other parents—some you’d like to smack
up-side-the head, as Grandpa used to say. These are permitting their
young daughters, some only five years old, to “model”
their seductively posed and scantily clad bodies on Web sites where
perverts can pay the monthly subscription fee and lust after the
little ones. Free teaser images provide the hook.
A Web search on July 16 for “Legal preteen model Web sites”
generated 12,400 hits. Site after site features little girls with
make-up, hairdos, and clothing, what there is of it, posed in ways
and with come-hither looks that are totally unnatural for little
girls. One girl about age seven has enough make-up and blond hair
to make Dolly Parton feel undone. They have names like, “Miss
Electra,” “Stacy Starlet,” “Heavenly Faith,”
and “Maddie Model — the cutest five-year-old preteen
Why would parents permit such a thing? One site solicits visitors
with this come-on: “So what are you waiting for? You only
live once! Profits go to Jessi’s college fund.”
Stripping for dollars—a good prep school for the Ivy League;
or is the centerfold league more likely? Whatever they might “profit”
from their daughter’s exploitation ought to be set aside for
her possible need for counseling for her drug or alcohol addiction
and abuse at the hands of sex addicts, once she moves on to the
big leagues. Such is the life of a stripper. If you think not, ask
“Amy’s Friends,” a ministry helping women get
out of the sex and porn industry. Ask any cop who has worked sex
crimes against kids what he thinks about parents exploiting young
girls in this way.
Dr. Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children, expressed in no uncertain terms the Center’s
position on child “model” sites: “We think they’re
just outrageous! Our view is that they clearly exploit children
and take advantage of the fine legal distinction between illegal
child pornography and child erotica. The overwhelming motive and
intended purpose is to whet the appetite of child predators and
pedophiles. The appetizer sites often have hyperlinks to sites with
illegal child porn. We are absolutely convinced they intend to exploit
The encouraging news is that operators, including parents, of some
of these young “model” sites are getting busted. Charges
include production of child pornography and child sexual exploitation
under state and federal laws.
Those arrested include James and Donna Cummings of Magazine, Arkansas,
free on bail on a state felony charge of “engaging children
in sexually explicit conduct for use in visual or print medium.”
The Cummingses featured “cheesecake” photos of their
12-year-old daughter on their Web site. Sheriff’s deputies
serving a search warrant in the Cummingses’ residence found
a videotape of their daughter that is described as “significantly
more explicit” than the Web site photos. The trial is scheduled
for July 22. If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison and
a $10,000 fine.
Gary Lee Smith, 35, of Missouri, was indicted in March by a federal
grand jury on federal child porn charges. Smith is charged with
employing and enticing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct
for the purpose of producing a visual depiction and for operating
a preteen “model” Web site that transmitted the images
across state and national borders. The charges allege that Smith
photographed a 12-year-old girl who posed for him in a hotel room.
Smith, who has a prior conviction of sexual abuse of a 16-year-old
girl in Arkansas, is free on bail. If convicted of all three charges,
he faces up to 90 years in prison without parole and a fine up to
The third bust occurred April 5 in Arapahoe County, Colorado, when
sheriff’s deputies arrested James Steven Grady, 42, who operated
the now unavailable “TrueTeenBabes” and “TrueTeenCams”
Web sites. Deputies seized more than 100,000 images of girls, including
220 that feature underage girls posed nude or partially nude. Grady
is charged with 886 felony counts of sexual exploitation of children
under a state law and could be sentenced to life in prison. He remains
in jail awaiting a trial scheduled for October 3.
Last year, WTVJ/NBC 6 in Miami reported that a Florida company was
operating Web sites featuring teen and preteen girls who reportedly
had their parents’ permission. As a result of the report,
Reps. Mark Foley (R-Florida) and Nick Lampson (D-Texas) introduced
the “Child Modeling Exploitation Prevention Act of 2002”
(HR 4667). The bill would prohibit employing or displaying a minor
under the age of 17 in “exploitive child modeling,”
which is defined as “the display of a minor (through any medium)
without a direct or indirect purpose of marketing a product or service
other than the minor.” On May 7, the bill was referred to
the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Committee
on the Judiciary.
Some of the preteen model sites are obviously gearing up a defense
in case HR 4667 becomes law. One site claims, “This is not
a Child Modeling Website” and “All videos on the site
are for providing a service—educating in the arena of fitness
and nutrition” and “modeling merchandise.” All
clothing is supposedly modeled for the purpose of sales, but there
are no prices, descriptions or sizes listed. Clicking on “inquiries
about sales” sends you back to the home page, where you can
buy a video. For “nutrition” information, visitors are
informed, “Lisa and Jasmine will cook one nutritious meal
every week which will be updated in an online video. Some of the
cooking will also be on our live web cam.” No doubt what you
can’t learn about cooking by watching Emeril Live, you can
learn from these seven-year-old Julia Childs. There’s a weekly
live “cam show” and a chat room to “upload files,
share e-mail, pictures and chat and more.”
If a training camp for future porn stars were run by Flynt, Guccioni
or Hefner — what would it look like? Been there — seen
it. And with the claim of “parental permission.”
Gramps — they need a smack up-side-the-head.
Jan LaRue is chief counsel of Concerned Women for America and a
frequent contributor to Culture & Family Report. An interview
with LaRue, in which she reveals her incredible life journey —
from being molested as a youth to faith in Christ, to becoming a
pro-family attorney — appears in the current edition of the
CWA magazine Family Voice (July-August 2002). To receive a complimentary
copy, call 1-800-458-8797, ext. 130.
[Cool Teen Sites]
The following have been archived to prevent loss. Copyrights
remain with originators.
Underage Model Photographer Gary Smith Arrested
Those who frequent the Yahoo! clubs and chat rooms for underage
model websites may recognize the name "SirSpiffy", a.k.a.
photographer Gary Smith, 35, who was arrested at his home in Chicago
by the Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff's Department last Friday on
an Arkansas arrest warrant (but as of this writing he has not officially
been charged with any crime). Previously arrested in Arkansas for
violating a previous plea agreement in 1997 over a sexual incident
with his 15 year-old babysitter, Smith had pled guilty and registered
for five years as a sex offender in the state of Illinois upon his
move there, to avoid jail time, but still maintains the opportunity
to work with models of any age. His mug shot can be found here:
An undisclosed source tells YNOT News that Smith posted $5,000 bond
after being held in custody overnight, and since he is still a registered
sex offender, much of his computer equipment, videos and disks were
confiscated during the arrest. There were a few adult models present
at Smith's house last Friday when his arrest and the subsequent
raid took place, and everyone was allegedly held for questioning
for several hours before they were released. According to a model
present at the time of arrest, after Smith bonded out, "he
seemed like he was going to leave Chicago for an undetermined amount
of time." But as of this writing, regardless of locations,
it would appear that Smith is still active in the teen model community
as he is regularly posting on the Yahoo! clubs chat boards.
Smith got his start in the Internet as a programmer in the mid-90s
before making the foray into photography. He also ran adult sites
for models over 18. He later would go on to start several underage
model sites that feature scantily clad girls between the ages of
11 and 17. These sites are based on the adult paysite business model:
he started the sites himself with his own money and splits the profits
with the models.
Models over the age of 18 often stay with Smith at his house at
his invitation when they travel to Chicago for photo shoots, but
according to one source who knows Smith, "He got into this
business to meet and lay women, and has made unwanted advances on
some of the models. I wouldn't do business with him, and I warn
others who ask me about him. All models of all ages should do some
kind of a background check on anybody that they work with anyway."
"Even if some of these underage models or their parents didn't
know about Smith's history, what I don't understand is how any parent
would sign off on a release on this kind of stuff for their kid…
it's scary what so many of these parents will allow" another
source wishing to remain anonymous stated. They added "The
FBI had been notified as early as a year ago about Smith's practices
on the Internet, and that he had made advances on models, and even
though he 'appeared' to be operating legally to them, it took the
authorities until now to actually check into it."
It is undetermined how much income some of the underage models make
from their sites, but four figures a month, are not out of the question.
Even with model site saturation being what it is on the Internet
nowadays, five figures a month is still possible in extreme cases.
One often wonders who these types of sites are aimed after. "Lonely
pedophiles looking to get off, and probably stalkers looking to
find a 'date' online," offers one veteran Adult Webmaster.
Adds another "A lot of the perverts who run these sites are
just like the perverts who surf them and sign up for memberships.
This is their sick way to reassure each other that it's OK to lust
after underage girls. For some crazy reason, the law says it's OK
to run sites likes these even though we all know why they really
With teen and amateur websites arguably being two of the hottest
and best selling niches on the market, it is no wonder that underage
teen model websites and clubs are getting a lot of traffic. Webmasters
like Gary Smith realized this early on, enabling him to leave his
regular job in web design and programming in Arkansas (and his divorced
wife) to pursue photography full time in Chicago, and no doubt meet
the kind of women that would not pay any attention to him under
Trouble has found him though in both of his lifestyles.
Representatives for various teen models and Smith himself would
not return emails for this story.
Undercover Investigations Examines 'Selling
CHICAGO, Nov. 7, 2001 - Young girls hoping to become rich and famous
in the world of modeling have found themselves working with a convicted
felon. In Wednesday's special report "Selling Innocence",
our Unit 5 investigative team goes undercover to expose a Chicago
area modeling studio whose owner is now the subject a national criminal
probe. Some of these girls have ended up in the new booming world
of child erotica, where they put themselves in the public spotlight
by posing for almost nude photo's, allegedly with parental permission.
Those behind the industry said it is all perfectly legal, but what
we uncovered has led to a police raid and a criminal investigation.
The Unit 5 investigative team exposed allegations of child exploitation,
pornography and sexual abuse against Gary Smith, a self proclaimed
high roller in the teen modeling industry. On the surface, his photo
business appears completely legitimate, but we found there's an
From kids posing on busy Chicago streets to more revealing shots
taken at a secret photo studio, Smith is cashing in big. Smith is
part of the booming Internet industry of child erotica. He sells
their pictures and videos on his website, where prosecutors said
he is selling to a select market that includes pedophiles. "I
think it's obscene," said Dan Stewart, prosecutor for Sebastian
County, Ark. "You're dealing with individuals who are preying
A 14-year-old model said she made a thousand dollars in her first
week and told us she doesn't want to think about who is paying to
see her pose. "It?s just something you don't think about because
that just ruins your fun," said Adrienne. Unit 5 went undercover
into a Halloween party staged by Smith. At the party, he allowed
website customers to meet 16, 15, even 14-year-old girls in person.
We also revealed his photo studio at a northside Chicago home. It
is an operation with annual revenues in the millions according to
police sources, who are now investigating Smith after what we uncovered.
Gary Smith is also a convicted child molester.
We've learned a nationwide criminal investigation is underway and
the secrets behind Gary smith's operation are about to unfold.
-------------INTERNET WORLD OF CHILD EROTICA---------------
How could a convicted child molester open a child-modeling studio
in a Chicago neighborhood? It is a question for both local and federal
authorities, who are on the trail of the man behind the operation,
Gary Smith. Smith is a 35-year-old computer specialist who's wanted
by police in Ark. He was convicted in 1998 of sexually assaulting
a man's 15-year old daughter.
"He had her pinned against the side of the car, trying to take
her clothes off and kissing on her," said Bill Lincks, the
father of the sexually assaulted teen. Smith was ordered to get
counseling in an agreement to avoid prison. "I have gone through
several counseling sessions ? about a dozen," said Smith. But
prosecutors in Arkansas said he?s in violation of his sentencing
agreement and could get ten years in prison.
They're also stunned to learn what we found out about Smith's business.
A Unit 5 surveillance video shows young girls going to his home
where he takes their pictures. They even meet him at hotel rooms.
Smith said parents approve of what he's doing.
And Unit 5 found he even sells tickets to website customers, who
can meet the girls in person and take custom photos at parties.
Authorities believe many of the photos are crossing the line. "I
believe this violates the Ark. statue of child pornography,"
said Ark. prosecutor Dan Stewart.
He issued a new warrant for Smith's arrest. "I think that it's
absolutely horrible and something needs to be done about it,"
Stewart said. Something is being done. We've learned Smith is the
subject of an FBI investigation. "I?ve been under investigation
by the FBI for four or five months now," said Smith.
Law enforcement sources close to the Smith case told Unit 5, the
FBI has information about a 12-year-old girl who Smith allegedly
forced to pose nude in a Missouri hotel room earlier this year.
The pictures are part of an alleged secret collection called the
"Golden Pictures". "It makes me sick to my stomach
that someone like Gary Smith is still preying and profiting from
something that?s as serious as he's doing," said Bill Lincks.
Smith wants to send a message to police and FBI agents investigating
him. He said everything he does is perfectly legal. Five days after
a Unit 5 interview with Smith, the Cook County sheriff's police
raided Gary?s home.
Police said there were $200,000 worth of computer equipment inside
and they seized it, along with thousands of computer discs and videos.
Police even found spotlights over some of the beds and drugs in
one of the rooms.
Smith was arrested on his Ark. warrant and sent to the Cook County
jail. As for his arrest on the violation of his plea agreement,
Smith posted bond and is free until the governor signs a warrant
to send him back to Ark. That could take up to 90 days.
The Cook County sheriff's police are examining all of his files
they confiscated and said "their investigation into Mr. Smith
and his business activities is continuing and expanding in scope."
Smith denied the drugs found in the house are his.
We've also learned five people have been arrested on pornography
charges stemming from other teen modeling websites. According to
U.S. Dept. of Justice sources, three people were indicted in Missouri,
including the parents of a girl who we've learned once appeared
on Smith?s website.
Federal officials said their investigation is continuing. The money
is so big, parents are setting up websites like Smith's all over
the country, selling images of their own kids on line.
In the days and weeks to come, we'll have the results of a joint
investigation we conducted with the investigative team from our
sister station in Miami.