The Miami Herald
Fri, Sep. 24, 2004

Child pornographer faces sentencing today

A Miami Beach child pornographer faces a potential 100-year prison sentence today after being convicted on charges of producing, importing and selling videos of underage girls.


Armed with a search warrant, a U.S. postal inspector stumbled upon a clue to a Miami Beach child pornographer two years ago when he discovered an envelope mailed to a Michigan house.

It contained an order form for videos, CDs and photo albums with descriptions such as ''cuties at play.'' The inspector, who found a child-porn video called Flowers 1 in the Michigan home, traced the envelope back to a private mailbox in South Beach.

That September in 2002, Angel Rafael Mariscal was arrested in his efficiency at the Shorehaven Hotel in Miami Beach. The 45-year-old was charged with running a child-pornography business and having sex with underage girls in videos shot in Cuba and his native Ecuador.

Marsical, diagnosed as HIV positive in 1996, faces a possible 100-year prison sentence today in Miami federal court. The judge could reject that recommendation by federal prosecutors and give him from 30 years to life.

At his beach hotel, Mariscal was caught by investigators with about 250 pornographic CDs and videos.

In some, he is shown having sex with at least 10 Cuban and Ecuadorean girls under 12 or under 16 years old. Investigators identified about 120 minors in his seized videos.

Court records did not say whether Marsical infected any of the girls, but note that accomplices were prosecuted in Cuba and at least one of them in Ecuador.

In April, U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga found Mariscal guilty of seven counts of producing, importing and selling child pornography.

''This defendant personally sexually abused children abroad so he could film the sexual abuse and bring these films into the United States and sell them to customers throughout the entire country,'' prosecutor David Szuchman said during the trial.

Mariscal's attorney, David Hodge, who did not return calls on Thursday, never put up a defense. At trial, he told Altonaga that his client was ''ready to enter a guilty plea,'' but went to trial to preserve his right to an appeal.

Prosecutors said in court papers that the case is unusually ''heinous'' not only because Mariscal had unprotected sex with the girls in his videos. But they said that he may have infected some of them with HIV.

''The defendant has knowingly exposed at least 10 minor victims to HIV by having unprotected sexual relations with them and did so for years,'' said Barbara Martinez Wright, another prosecutor.

Prosecutors say Mariscal was able to coordinate his porn conspiracy from 1999 to 2002 because he is an Ecuadorean national and legal U.S. resident, who traveled on a passport issued by his native country.

He used the Shorehaven as his business residence, gave his company a fictitious name -- Cultural Research Team -- and sent his video productions through a Washington Avenue pack and post.

He mailed flyers to customers nationwide -- offering not only hundreds of selections of hard-core child porn but asking customers if they wanted to write their own ''fantasy'' scripts for production. Customers paid between $595 and $995 per video.

Prosecutors showed at trial that Mariscal had at least 40 customers, including a former firefighter from northern Florida who was convicted on charges of buying $13,000 in child pornography from Mariscal.

As a result of his arrest, customers nationwide were targeted by the U.S. Postal Service and Department of Justice. Investigators said U.S. State Department officials in Havana and Cuban authorities provided significant assistance.

Investigators asked for their help in identifying girls and Mariscal's coconspirators after postal inspectors saw footage in his videos that looked like sights in Cuba.

''There were, I believe, two videotapes that Mr. Mariscal had filmed as he was driving in a vehicle,'' South Florida postal inspector Elizabeth Bendel testified. ``In other words, he was going from point A to point B and he was filming like a tourist would film.

''We were able to see some of the buildings in the route he took to whatever his destination was,'' she added. ``Those buildings we were able to identify as existing in Cuba.''

Hodge, arguing for a more lenient sentence, said in court papers that Mariscal suffers from a terminal illness and from ''severely reduced mental capacity'' because of his pornography addiction.

Hodge also argued that the legal age of consent is 16 in Cuba and that there are no laws against child pornography in Ecuador. He stressed that Mariscal ''took precautions'' when having sex with the girls, including using soap and water and mouthwash to prevent transmitting the AIDS virus.

''There is no proof that he caused any illnesses,'' Hodge wrote, saying none of the girls tested positive for HIV.