'Free' Porn Site Was Pricey

041201, snappy, Internet Fraud, MGS CBS/AP

Federal prosecutors charged three men, including an alleged mob soldier and the head of the company that publishes Playgirl, with bilking thousands of consumers out of $230 million in an Internet pornography scheme.

The defendants were arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, credit-card fraud and money laundering. All three pleaded innocent.

A federal indictment said the defendants operated Web sites that falsely claimed that viewers could look at pornographic images for free. The viewers were told to enter their credit card numbers just for age-verification purposes, but then were billed up to $90 a month, prosecutors alleged.

"The defendants created a web of lies and deception to trap unwary consumers on the Internet," U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said.

Prosecutors accused defendant Richard Martino of Harrison, N.Y., an alleged soldier in the Gambino crime family, of funneling more than $8 million from the scheme to the family. The other two men charged were Bruce Chew, 50, of Lloyd Harbor, N.Y.; and Norman Chanes, 56, of New York City.

Chew was identified by prosecutors as chief executive of the Crescent Publishing Group, a publisher of adult magazines including Playgirl and High Society. The Web sites involved in the scheme allegedly used material from the magazines. The company was not charged and was said to be cooperating with the investigation.

Prosecutors said Chanes was the president of Harvest Advertising, which allegedly bought space in magazines that advertised the Web sites. Harvest was one of five companies charged in the indictment; the others were involved in the phone-sex business.

The defendants could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors also said they intended to seize property belonging to the three defendants, including multimillion-dollar homes that Martino and Chanes own in the Hamptons.
  • Justine Blau

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