THE "SCARFACE" OF PORN:
Michael George Thevis (above) was an gangster dubbed by tabloids "The Scarface of Porn" due to his rise and fall in marketing illegal pornography, multiple murders of his business associates, and eventual placement on the ‘FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.’ Starting out selling black market pornography at a corner newstand in Atlanta, Georgia, he became affiliated with a number of small-time gangsters who helped him start up his enterprise, before he was finally introduced to members of the Gambino crime family. With their backing, Thevis became responsible for the distribution of 40% of America's pornography, a venture that netted him $100 million a year.
Thevis' entry into criminal enterprises began one day while going over the financial records for his newsstand. He discovered that, while Playboy only accounted for 10% of his sales, it was almost solely responsible for his turning a profit. In 1967 he went underground, and while overtly selling only tame nudie publications, he began to produce his own magazine titles, including "Pendulum," a hardcore pornography publication which told "stories" through the use of spreads of pornographic photos accompanied by text. It is of note that some of the text for these spreads was written by "Donna D. Dildo," better known to the world at that time as Ed Wood, Jr.. Thevis would later go on to publish, as a silent partner with a fellow pornographer, two of Ed Wood's pornographic paperback novels, Raped in the Grass and Bye, Bye Broadie.
Early issues of Pendulum included back-page offers from Thevis to his readers to send in photos of their favorite body part (and one dollar) in order to become a Pendulum Anatomy Researcher ostensibly to be published in a future issue. Eventually Pendulum publications grew to more than twenty titles before closing shop in 1973.
Thevis' work with Pendulum led him to meet and form a business partnership with gangster and pornographer Kenny "the Jap" Hanna, whom Thevis used to make contacts with customers whose interests were far more suspect. In this time period, Thevis was using the newsstand to deal in black market pornography including hardcore bondage, rape, bestiality and, eventually, child porn. Business boomed.
In the last half of 1967 Hanna introduced Thevis to a fellow gangster, Roger Dean Underhill, a low-ranking associate of the Gambino organized-crime family. Together Underhill and Thevis would move the small underground porn stand to the next level. Underhill and Thevis began to manufacture and distribute the peep shows to locations all over America, to locations ranging from airport bars to the sex shops on 42nd Street in New York City's Times Square. By the end of the 1970s the phrases "loop" and "peep booth" would be synonymous with hardcore pornography. Thevis was steadily introduced to higher ranking mobsters as the profits he was making for the family continued to rise, until he became an "official" associate, attending conferences with "made" members of the family.
Thevis faced negative publicity from Nat Bailen, owner and founder of Urban Industries, which manufactured peep booths. In the early 1960s Bailen had invented peep booths to show children's cartoons. He publicly spoke out against Thevis for turning his creation into a smut machine. In April of 1970 Urban Industries was burnt to the ground; fire investigators ruled it an arson.
Another major crime linking Thevis to the world of organized crime came in November of 1970, when Kenny Hanna was found shot to death in an apparent gangland execution. Investigating the case, the FBI turned up Thevis' name. What began as a routine check into what the FBI believed was one more murdered gangster ended with the realization that they had stumbled onto the man responsible for distributing 40% of the United States' pornography, legal and illegal. In addition to his black-market and peep-show enterprises, he also controlled over 400 adult bookstores and X-rated movie theaters across the country. The government estimated his annual income at $100 million.
Word reached Thevis that he was under investigation. Aware that gangsters Al Capone and Dutch Schultz were brought down by federal investigations into their finances, Thevis began to branch out into legitimate enterprises, not only to account for his illegal income, but to launder some of it and make even more cash in the process. His peep booths were manufactured by one of his legitimate fronts, Cinematics. He owned General Recording Corp., a music distributor, and began to produce movies. He fronted the cash for Zhui ming qiang (1973), and financed one of Oliver Stone's earliest films, Seizure (1974).
In 1973, Roger Dean Underhill was present when James Mayes, an employee of Cinematics, came to Thevis asking for a raise. Thevis was incensed, and shot Mayes to death. Shortly thereafter, Underhill was arrested during a routine traffic stop when the alert officer found a small cache of stolen guns in Underhill's car. Underhill was booked on charges of possession of stolen weapons and transporting stolen property across state lines; conviction meant a long stretch in federal prison. Sensing a potential breakthrough in their investigation of Thevis, the FBI got involved, offering Underhill leniency in exchange for his help in bringing down Thevis. Believing that he was too low-ranking to expect much assistance from the mob, Underhill agreed to turn state's evidence.
Over the next three years he helped the FBI in building charges against Thevis, and revealed in a sworn affidavit that Thevis had given him the order to set the fire that burned down Urban Industries. He further revealed that he was acting as backup when Thevis murdered Kenny Hanna, and that he was present during the murder of James Mayes. The FBI also learned about crimes they had never linked Thevis to, including the bombing of one of Thevis' competitors in Fayeteville, Kentucky and his extortion of a small-time pornographer in Houston. Meanwhile, Thevis continued to get richer, funding another movie, Poor Pretty Eddy (1975), and extending the reaches of his porn empire into Florida.
The beginning of the end for Thevis came in 1976, when he was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson, and distribution of obscene materials; Underhill personally testified against his former partner. Thevis was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison and ordered to pay $650,000 to Nat Bailen, the employees of Urban Industries, and Urban Industries' insurance companies. In prison Thevis received word that his wife had divorced him and that the IRS had teamed up with the FBI to investigate him for fraud. Finally, Thevis was indicted in Florida on various charges under the RICO statutes, thanks largely in part to Roger Dean Underhill.
Thevis escaped from prison in 1978 and was immediately placed on the FBI's top ten most wanted list. Word got to the FBI that Thevis had contacted old associates in the mob and arranged for a contract to be put on Underhill's life as revenge his betrayal. According to the FBI, Underhill became one of the most sought-after gangsters in America, as word spread among the criminal underworld that an "open contract" had been placed on him--that is, no specific hit man was tasked with the job; whoever could prove they killed Underhill would receive a substantial reward. No one ever got to collect, though, because Thevis personally tracked down Underhill himself and shot him and an associate, Isaac Galanti, with a shotgun.
Thevis was apprehended shortly after the murders and taken for holding to a maximum security facility in Connecticut. Awaiting his RICO trial in Florida, he tried to establish a "prison rep" by bragging to other prisoners about his various murders, including Underhill and Galanti. His cellmate contacted authorities. In 1980, Michael Thevis, the "Scarface of Porn," who had once made $100 million a year and owned nearly half of the hardcore porn industry, was convicted of the murders of Isaac Galanti and Roger Dean Underhill. He was sentenced to 28 years to life. In 1999, a parole board denied his request for release.
An internet rumor, echoed in the book Sleazoid Express, says that Thevis died in prison in the 1980s. This however is untrue as he is still serving his sentence in Stillwater, Minnesota.
The remnants of Michael Thevis' porn empire were mostly taken over by his ex-wife Velda and his eldest son, Michael Thevis Jr. It is believed that Thevis Jr. is still dealing in illegal porn, under the name Mike Skokolo.