My father was convicted for distributing pornography

Date

Kristin Battista-Frazee

Living in the '70s: Kristin Battista-Frazee with her father Anthony and mother Frances.

Living in the '70s: Kristin Battista-Frazee with her father Anthony and mother Frances. Photo: courtesy of Kristin Battista-Frazee

I didn't realise until I was older that Deep Throat was the reason we'd moved from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale in the summer of 1977, when I was six years old. By the time my stockbroker father, Anthony Battista, had been sentenced for distributing the 1972 porn film, he had acquired interests in three adult film theatres in Florida, in addition to still running the Golden 33 strip club in Philadelphia. While it was still flourishing, my parents' marriage had suffered. My father was ready to leave it behind and make a bold move for our family.

A few weeks before the move, my mother, Frances, was reading through The Philadelphia Inquirer. As she had every Sunday for the past few weeks, she searched for an article by reporter Jack Smith, who'd interviewed my father months before. That day she came across the headline, "Stockbroker to Pornbroker", and saw my father's name in the paragraphs below.

My parents took turns reading the article."Geez, Anthony. He makes you seem like the porn king of Philadelphia," said my mother when they were finished.

"Interesting quote: 'The only difference between selling stock and smut is I don't have to wear a tie.' " My father looked at my mother and chuckled.

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After two days of driving, we finally arrived at our new ranch-style house in Plantation, Fort Lauderdale. "I love it, Anthony!" my mother said as she walked over the shiny new linoleum floors in the kitchen.

"I think we'll be happy here," my father said. He sounded relieved and flashed her a grin.

We examined every room of the house, turned on every tap and opened every closet door. My room had a bright-yellow carpet, which I loved. Later, we gathered on the patio to stare at the crystal-blue pool encased by a screen dome that had a view of the canal behind our house. I felt like we were rich.

That summer, my evenings were spent playing tag, riding bikes or swimming until dark. Our next-door neighbours, Hans and Aggie Mueller, were an older German couple. They frequently offered my mother advice as we settled into our new home.

"Hans and I noticed how nice it was that your friends pick up your garbage," Aggie said one day on the phone with my mother.

"I'm sorry?" my mother said, her voice puzzled.

"But don't buy the City of Plantation garbage bags if you've got someone else picking up your trash. That's a waste of money."

"Oh yeah ... that's a good point, Aggie. Thanks."

Flustered, my mother called the wife of my father's business associate.

"You sure it wasn't the lawn service?" Pat said. "Gosh, Frannie. That sounds strange."

"Really strange," my mother said, unable to keep the fear and confusion out of her voice.

"Don't panic," Pat said. "I'll come over on the next garbage day and we'll watch to see who picks it up."

Days later, they hid behind the drapes of our living-room window and watched the curb. In the early afternoon, just before the normal city pick-up time, they watched a dark sedan pull up. A man in a black suit and sunglasses jumped out and quickly tossed our trash bags into the trunk of the car.

My mother gasped. The man glanced back at the house. Pat and my mother both hit the carpet.

"Oh ... my ... God," Pat said slowly. "Frannie, maybe it's the FBI."

"But why? What do they want with my trash?"

"I don't know."

Later that afternoon, my father arrived home from his trip to visit the Premier Theatre in Orlando. He listened attentively as Mom told him quickly about the man in the dark suit who had stolen the garbage. When she was finished, he looked her in the eyes and said calmly, "Frannie, the FBI might be watching us. Be careful what you say on the phone. And that trash can in my office? Don't ever empty it."

Our boxes were barely unpacked when on August 31, 1977, my father was indicted by a Fort Lauderdale grand jury by order of a special taskforce on obscenity. Working with the FBI, it had linked my father to the local Spectrum Design Company, where the films for the Florida theatres were stored and where 245 porn films were seized. Evidence from our trash had connected my father to Spectrum, and police claimed Dad was setting up accounts to distribute the films in Philadelphia. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

My attendance at Dad's trial came near the end. His lawyer reckoned the jury's opinion might be softened if the "smut dealer" they were trying to convict had a cute seven-year-old daughter. Dressed in a bright yellow sun-dress and cardigan sweater, I played the part of the innocent pornographer's daughter. I did my best to behave, smile at the jurors and occupy myself with a pile of books.

Before the day's proceedings, my father turned around and gave me a wink. After that, I had no idea what was going on for the rest of the day. To me, all the lawyers sounded very mad and my mother seemed tense as she simply stared straight ahead.

Ultimately, my presence didn't help; a few days after I attended the trial, the jury found my father guilty.

Edited extract from The Pornographer's Daughter, by Kristin Battista-Frazee, published by Nero on Monday.