Police Blotter: Bondage Webmaster fights abuse conviction

Owner of SlaveSpace.com tries to overturn verdict saying he's guilty of criminal abuse of woman who volunteered to be his sex slave.

Police Blotter is a weekly News.com report on the intersection of technology and the law.

What: Bondage Webmaster is convicted of "forced labor" and "sex trafficking" for his sadistic sexual encounters with one of his so-called slaves.

When: U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross rules on May 17.

Outcome: Conviction remains intact.

What happened, according to court documents:
Glenn Marcus' SlaveSpace.com relied on a novel business model: Finding sex slaves on the Internet, tying them up, whipping them and posting photographs of the process online. Membership to SlaveSpace.com started at $20 for 30 days of access.

Sometime in 1998, a woman named Jodi (referred to in court documents by her first name only) started hunting for information about what's known as BDSM--bondage, dominance/discipline, submission/sadism and masochism--and found Marcus in an AOL chat room. He went by the screen name "GMYourGod" and demanded absolute obedience.

Later that year, Jodi traveled to Maryland to meet Marcus and a fellow sex slave named Joanna. He whipped Jodi, with her consent, and carved the word "slave" on her stomach with a knife. The next month, she sent a petition to Marcus saying in part: "I am begging to serve you Sir, completely, with no limitations."

In January 1999, Jodi moved to Maryland to live with Joanna, and Marcus would regularly visit them from his home on Long Island. Occasionally the BDSM-and-sex sessions became severe: Marcus once burned Jodi with cigarettes all over her body. He put a whiffle ball inside her mouth and tried to sew her lips shut with surgical needles. Other encounters cannot be fully described in a mainstream publication.

Many of these incidents were photographed and uploaded to SlaveSpace.com, which Jodi spent much of her time updating, including writing diaries for the site. She referred to herself as "pooch" or "poochie" and wrote lengthy, rambling essays saying things like: "i need to serve Him, to please Him. i not only want to, i need to. i feel this so deeply, every single part of me feels this."

At some point around August 2001, they became estranged, but, according to Jodi, she felt unable to escape the relationship because she was afraid of Marcus. She later acknowledged staying in contact with him through 2003, even going camping with him.

After Marcus would not remove the photos from the Internet (he claimed to have a valid model release), Jodi contacted the FBI. Federal prosecutors charged Marcus with sex trafficking, forced labor and dissemination of obscene materials through an interactive computer service.

For the jury, consent was key: Did Jodi agree to the sadistic activities at the time, in which case Marcus would be not guilty as charged? A Village Voicearticle says: "It's possible that she regretted her participation and re-wrote her role into an unwilling victim, but it's equally likely that Marcus lost touch with reality, believed he actually owned her, and behaved accordingly."

On March 5, Marcus was found guilty of sex trafficking and forced labor but not guilty of distributing obscene materials. His attorneys responded by filing a motion asking for a new trial or acquittal on technical grounds, including that the sex-trafficking law was not meant to apply to consensual BDSM activities.

U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross denied the request. Marcus, 53, is free until sentencing, at which point he could face anywhere from 30 years to life in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for June 5.

Excerpts from Judge Ross's opinion:
The defendant asks the court to set aside his convictions... contending that (1) the rule of lenity requires that the sex trafficking and forced labor statutes be construed narrowly and, therefore, are inapplicable to the conduct at issue; (2) the sex trafficking statute does not apply when the victim is coerced into pornography as opposed to prostitution; and (3) the evidence is insufficient to show a nexus between the defendant's conduct and the commercial sex act element of the sex trafficking statute or the labor or services element of the forced labor statute...

The defendant makes two principal arguments as to why the court should find that these statutes are ambiguous such that the court should invoke the rule of lenity and set aside his convictions. First, the defendant contends that the (sex trafficking law) should not apply to "intimate, domestic relationship(s)" like the one at issue here. Second, the defendant argues that the application of the sex trafficking and forced labor statutes to BDSM activities renders the statutory language ambiguous. For the reasons stated below, the court finds both arguments to be without merit...

Finally, the court is not convinced that a manifest injustice would result in the absence of a new trial. The defendant makes a valiant attempt to depict his conduct as, at worst, domestic violence and to paint any commercial aspects as merely incidental to what was really an intimate relationship.

However, such a characterization vastly understates the role that the defendant's Web site appeared to play in his relationship with Jodi. Jodi testified about a wide variety of intimate conduct between her, the defendant, and other women that was photographed and displayed, for a fee, on the defendant's Web site. Moreover, based on her testimony, she was forced to describe this conduct--in minute detail--for posting on the Web site, and she was also made to spend eight or more hours a day updating the Web site and clicking on banner advertisements. Meanwhile, according to Jodi, the defendant monitored her work daily, punished her when her performance was not up to par and collected all of the proceeds of her labor on the Web site.

The defendant has provided no reason why the court should question the jury's apparent determination that Jodi was a credible witness, and the court finds none. After a close review of the evidence presented at trial, the court finds the commercial aspects to be sufficiently pervasive in the nonconsensual portion of the relationship between Jodi and the defendant that a new trial on these grounds is not warranted. Accordingly, the defendant's Rule 33 motion is denied.

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