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Published: Friday, 8/3/2001

Former Toledo man indicted on charge of plant smuggling

BY LISA A. ABRAHAM
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Toledo native once dubbed “the Porno King of San Diego” has been indicted for his alleged role in an international smuggling operation of protected, rare, palm tree-like plants.

Donald Joseph Wiener, 64, who lives in Mexico, was charged with conspiracy, smuggling, and making false statements in a 14-count federal indictment unsealed in San Francisco last month.

The indictment alleges that Wiener and five other men - two Australians, two South Africans, and a Zimbabwean - illegally sent about $542,000 worth of protected cycads to the United States from South Africa, Australia, and Zimbabwe between August, 1999, and July. Wiener was arrested July 20 by special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The indictment says cycads, which resemble palms or fern trees, “belong to a group of primitive plants that have been in existence for at least 250 million years.” They face threats in the wild from habitat loss and are protected by an international treaty in which the United States and 150 other nations regulate global commerce of endangered animals and plants.

The indictment describes Wiener as the U.S. buyer of the plants. His attorney, Nanci Clarence of San Francisco, could not be reached for comment.

Wiener was released after an initial appearance in federal court in San Diego and is to appear Aug. 22 before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco, according to information from the U.S. attorney's office there.

Wiener, who lives in Rosarito, Mexico, moved to California in the 1960s from Toledo and built an empire of adult bookstores that his son, Steven Wiener, now controls. The businesses include a pornography web site and a chain of at least two dozen adult book and video stores across the country, including Adult Pleasures in North Toledo and stores in Oregon and Sylvania.

Steven Wiener of Chula Vista, Calif., is serving a 15-month federal prison sentence for tax evasion. He frequently has fought local governments across the country when they try to restrict his operations.

He sued Toledo in federal court in 1999 to challenge a city law requiring that doors be removed from adult video viewing booths in porn shops. The suit is in negotiations, John Madigan, general counsel for the city, said.

Mr. Madigan said the city believes its law prohibiting doors on viewing booths is valid and would withstand a court challenge. However, since the case was filed, other local adult bookstore operators have joined in Wiener's suit. The operators have filed a countersuit against the city attacking the zoning code and claiming it is written to prevent adult businesses from locating in the city.

The city's zoning law permits adult businesses only in areas zoned for two specific commercial classifications and prohibits them from being near schools or churches, Mr. Madigan said.

As a result, the city has 32 sites where an adult business may locate. Adult businesses are at 16 of those locations, he said.

“We argue there's a lot of these places already,” he said. The city maintains the 32 locations are sufficient; the stores' owners disagree.

“That's the argument they're making. We've got to address it; I can't just blow if off. It could critically affect our ability to zone these places if the court rules against us,” he said.

He said consultants the city hired to rewrite Toledo's zoning code are examining the matter.

John Czarnecki, a Toledo attorney representing several of the store owners, could not be reached for comment.



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