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Church and State

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd's mission from God to eliminate obscenity knows no bounds

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2011:02:15 00:13:16

Today there are none, thanks mostly to Grady Judd.

When Judd was a major with Polk County's Special Investigations Division in the late 1980s, he had tried in vain to rid the county of any business he felt was "peddling obscene materials."

"Most of the charges were misdemeanors and went to misdemeanor prosecutors that didn't know what they were doing," Judd says. "We just had no luck at all."

He says that adult-business store owners taunted him with the idea that the stretch of Highway 92 between Lakeland and Auburn-dale could eventually host an adult-business sector resembling that of Orlando's Orange Blossom Trail, a seedy strip punctuated by windowless buildings, oversized neon signs, barbed-wire fences and the occasional prostitute pounding the pavement.

"I said no, no it's not," Judd recalls. "In fact, it's not going to exist at all."

That year, Judd successfully pressed the Board of County Commissioners to enact a zoning ordinance to make it difficult for new adult businesses to set up shop.

Then, Judd and his allies in the State Attorney's Office found a legal way to impose harsher penalties against businesses that did operate in the area: the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) act. Modeled on a 1970 federal act originally devised to control organized crime, Florida's version of the act allowed prosecutors to transform obscenity misdemeanors into a "pattern of racketeering activity," which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years 
in prison.

With that tool in hand, Judd and the State Attorney's Office were able to rid Polk County of every last adult business without ever having to go to court. The sheriff's office would file charges against an establishment, then follow up with an offer to drop the charges provided that the business owner agreed to shut down. It worked like a charm. Between 1987 and 2002, more than 100 adult businesses took a plea deal, left voluntarily or were evicted by a landlord who faced similar charges for renting to an adult business.

Judd and his allies say that the fact the defendants pled was an indication of their guilt; but others, including Tampa attorney Luke Lirot, called it the logical outcome of an intimidation tactic. Lirot characterizes it this way: "We'll pick up the sledgehammer if you go away and take your First Amendment rights with you."

In 1997, the City of Lakeland passed an adult-business zoning ordinance that - like the one in Polk County - made it nearly impossible to open a new adult-entertainment establishment. Still, Lirot was able to secure a license (Adult Entertainment License #01, the first and last to ever be issued) that year for a man named Robert Gluck who wanted to open a video store with an adult-video section in an old 7-Eleven off of Highway 98 near I-4. Lirot says it wasn't long before Polk deputies arrived at the store.

Despite the fact that they had a Lakeland license permitting them to run an adult business, Gluck and his wife were charged by the Polk County Sheriff's Office with wholesale distribution of obscene materials under the state RICO Act. "It was a very, very, very uncomfortable situation for them," Lirot says, adding that Robert Gluck has since passed away. "Tangibly, it had an adverse affect on their health, and I think it accelerated their demise."

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