Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997 | 10:13 a.m.
Reuben Sturman, the pornography king of the 1980s whose first Las Vegas obscenity trial in 1991 ended in a mistrial and who a year later pleaded guilty to the same charges, has died in federal prison. He was 73.
Sturman, whose pornography empire included the old Talk of the Town bookstore at the point where Eastern Avenue, Charleston Boulevard and Boulder Highway meet, died Monday night in a federal prison hospital in Lexington, Ky.
No further details about his death were released. He had been serving 10 years on a 1989 conviction in Cleveland for conspiring to obstruct the Internal Revenue Service and a 19-year sentence for a 1993 extortion conviction in Chicago.
Sturman received a four-year sentence for his 1992 Las Vegas conviction on charges of racketeering and shipment of obscene materials across state lines. His prison sentence was limited to time served in the tax case.
A colorful character, Sturman often chatted with news reporters covering his trial. But he was camera-shy, often wearing a cowboy hat and white surgical mask en route to federal courtrooms, where cameras are banned.
During his 1991 trail, Sturman chuckled as jurors watched the films that prosecutors alleged were obscene.
The mistrial marked the fourth time in 28 years the Shaker Heights, Ohio, resident had beaten a porn rap.
So successful was Sturman at evading conviction on sex charges that the government went after his money trail, convicting him in 1989 on similar tax charges that brought down famed Chicago mob kingpin Al Capone decades earlier.
Sturman, however, would taste freedom one more time. On Dec. 7, 1992, he escaped from the minimum-security federal prison in Boron, Calif., and he was captured in Anaheim, Calif., two months later.
Stephen H. Jigger, a federal prosecutor who worked on the tax case against Sturman, said it was different from unsuccessful pornography prosecutions of Sturman because it wasn't complicated by First Amendment obscenity and free speech issues.
In the 1980s, Sturman was identified by the U.S. Justice Department as the No. 1 distributor of hard-core pornography. His indictment by a Cleveland grand jury was announced by Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Sturman's bond was set at $3 million.
He was convicted in Cleveland of hiding his ownership of businesses selling sexually explicit materials throughout the United States and Europe and skimming taxable revenues primarily to banks in Switzerland and also the Netherlands.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Sturman sent at least $8 million to the overseas banks, including $3 million in taxable income, from 1974-82.
Prosecutors alleged during his Las Vegas trial that Sturman controlled an empire of adult bookstores and movie theaters originating in his hometown of Cleveland and including businesses in Las Vegas, Reno, San Francisco and San Diego.
Sturman ran a Cleveland candy and tobacco business that eventually branched out into a comic book and magazine distributorship.
His arrests on pornography charges dated back decades. In 1964, he was indicted on charges of receiving lewd books but he won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling three years later that the material was not obscene.
He was acquitted of obscenity charges in 1976 and similar charges were dismissed in 1980.