Bob Guccione's FBI File: From Smut Peddler To Penthouse Founder

Before he rose to notoriety as the founder of Penthouse magazine, Bob Guccione allegedly wrote letters soliciting customers to buy his dirty photos at the bargain rate of 10 photos for $2 under the pseudonym of "Robert Gucci."

That's just part of what is revealed by the more than sixty pages of FBI records on Guccione obtained by TPM through a Freedom of Information Act request. Guccione died in October at the age of 79.

Until now, it was widely held that Guccione got into the business in 1964 with the founding of Penthouse. But the new information unveiled in an FBI file from 1964 shows that a "Gucci" who shared an address with Guccione had been under investigation in 1956 for "sending obscene photographs through the mail."

At the time he wrote the letters in 1956, Guccione would have been in his mid-twenties. An investigation was ended when the company "Gucci" was using voluntarily went out of business, an official at the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office in New York told the FBI.

Here's what Guccione, who said he was an artist in Europe, allegedly wrote to a prospective client sometime in 1956:

Bob Guccione's FBI File: From Smut Peddler To Penthouse Founder

"Gucci" wrote that he had photos of "dozens of other, young, Italian girls," but he chose to send photos of one of the girls (whose name the FBI redacted) whose "voluptous [sic] and perfect beauty of her body alone, made me turn to photography." You can read the full letter here.

During that 1964 investigation, his landlord in New York (Guccione was subletting at the time) told the FBI he Guccione was immature and financially supported by his father.

Allegations of Guccione's ties to organized crime are a running theme in the file, particularly in the course of his efforts to build a casino in Atlantic City. He couldn't get a gaming license because of the investigation, which helped doom the effort, according to New York magazine, but he was ultimately vindicated.

Bob Guccione's FBI File: From Smut Peddler To Penthouse Founder

Heavily redacted FBI records from 1983 show that an an appointee of President Ronald Reagan was investigated over allegations of ties to organized crime and Guccione. The appointee in question had worked for Penthouse in the course of a libel lawsuit. The appointee, whose name was redacted, had been an investigator for both the House of Representatives and the Senate and was nominated for the Chief Investigator of a Commission On Organized Crime, which Reagan established by executive order.

Another lawyer in the same libel lawsuit, whose name was also redacted, was interviewed about the allegations against the appointee. In the lawsuit, La Costa v. Penthouse International, it was alleged that Penthouse committed libel for publishing an article asserting that the La Costa Casino was a haven for criminals funded with money connected to the mafia. The lawyer told the FBI that the appointee "has frequent contact with organized crime members" and that he "could be had or bought." But the FBI file seems to indicate that further investigation revealed there wasn't anything to the allegations.

In a Dec. 7, 1983 letter to White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding, the FBI notes that they were unable to further investigate the ties because Richard A. Hauser, Deputy Counsel to the President, was unable to provide the name of a confidential source who may have had more information about the allegations. The FBI said it would not look into the allegation any further unless instructed to do so by the White House.

The most recent set of reports in the file date back to 1986, when the FBI investigated Guccione and Penthouse for knowingly hiring underage models. The mother of an unnamed victim from Casper, Wyoming reported to the FBI that her daughter "may have been involved in making sexually explicit films" after running away from home to Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Through interviews with the mother and the victim herself, the FBI pieced together that the victim had performed in wet T-shirt contests where she had attracted the attention of pornography producers.

While the victim was still in Florida, her mother received rosy reports from her daughter and relayed to the FBI her daughter's future plans as an adult model. "Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse Magazine, allegedly very interested in victim and wants her to do photo spread for possible use as Penthouse Pet of the Month." The victim planned on flying out to Los Angeles "to do five day location photo shot (sic)." She said she planned to "stay at local hotel as guest of Penthouse Magazine."

The reality of the situation was more grim. After returning home to Casper, the FBI interviewed the victim in person. She was showcased in bikini and wet T-shirt contests in Fort Lauderdale "in which films and photographs were made of her and other contestants in various stages of undress." "Many of the contestants were supplied with cocaine and other controlled substances." One hot location for the models was called "The Candy Store."

In addition to cocaine and other controlled substances, the victim was also asked to perform sexual services for a business associate of an acquaintance to repay a debt the acquaintance owed.

She was eventually enticed to pose for a supposed "staff photographer for Penthouse Magazine" in an all-day photoshoot. "Victim stated that she was not asked, nor did she offer any proof of age." The victim was promised that her photos would be mailed to Penthouse's headquarters in New York City, and she was told that "if selected to appear in Penthouse Magazine, ... she would receive a minimum of 5,000 dollars, maximum of 450,000 dollars."

Once back in Wyoming, "Victim has heard nothing from Penthouse (redacted) to date," the FBI wrote. The FBI never pinned down any connection to Guccione directly.

That was not the first time Guccione and Penthouse ran into trouble with the FBI for not checking the ages of their models. Two years earlier Traci Lords appeared as the September 1984 centerfold. When the magazine hit newsstands, she was 16. The Lord's investigation eventually led to a Supreme Court decision, but nothing about the Lords investigation appears to have been included in the file.

What is also curious about the FBI file is that it makes no mention of Guccione's involvement with publishing the Unabomber's letter in 1995. He famously refused to cooperate with the FBI at the time.

Towards the end of his life, the changing media environment was not kind for Guccione and Penthouse. At his peak, Guccione was listed on many Forbes wealthiest lists and Penthouse sold five million copies per month. Guccione built failed hotels and casinos, and he invested in quixotic nuclear fusion energy projects. He purchased Judy Garland's piano and Picasso and Van Gogh paintings to decorate his 26-room Manhattan townhouse. His expenses combined with flagging sales led to Penthouse's publisher going bankrupt in 2003 and Guccione resigning as chairman of the board of Penthouse International, as Vanity Fair recounted.

The FBI's response to TPM's FOIA request mentions that files which may be responsive to the request were destroyed on July 2, 1977 and May 21, 1992. In addition, the records of the FBI's Los Angeles field office could not be searched, and additional records have been transferred to the National Archives on Jan. 28, 2010.


Bob Guccione's FBI File: From Smut Peddler To Penthouse FounderRepublished with permission from TalkingPointsMemo.com. Authored by Ryan J. Reilly and Alex Sciuto. Photos of Guccione via AP. TPM provides breaking news, investigative reporting and smart analysis of politics.