The Bill Gates of Porn
How Reuben Sturman shaped the sex industry
Sturman was indicted for tax evasion in 1985 but managed to delay his trial for four years. He challenged the legality of the Justice Department's actions, demanded to see the secret documents given to the Swiss, and vehemently denied having any ties to the Cosa Nostra. The courts upheld the government's position and kept the documents secret. In 1989, Sturman was found guilty in the tax case and subsequently pleaded guilty in a Las Vegas obscenity case. Three years later, he was finally sent to prison. On the night of Dec. 7, 1992, he escaped from prison, vanishing into the Mojave Desert. Federal officials assumed that Sturman had fled the country and would never be seen again. Instead, he was discovered in a modest apartment, not far from Disneyland, after eight weeks on the run. His capture sparked a series of wild revelations. Sturman had not only tampered with the jury in his tax case; he had also attempted to bribe the judge. And he had hired thugs to destroy adult bookstores owned by former associates who had seemed disloyal to him. The IRS says Sturman owes it $29 million in back taxes and has seized all his available assets. At his last court appearance, he was represented by a public defender and claimed to be dead broke.
Sturman is now serving a 19-year sentence at a federal prison in Manchester, Ky. He is 72 years old, but looks younger. He has a strong air of authority, like a proud, recently deposed head of state. His hatred of the U.S. government is palpable and intense. "They really were, and still are, a terrible bunch of people," he says. "But bad as they were, I was going to beat them every time." He claims never to have paid the Gambino family any money, at any time. He laments the recent changes in the porn trade, the flood of cheap product, the "junk" being sold these days. "You wanted to know how the industry started," Sturman says, toward the end of an interview. "Well, you're looking at the person who started it."