A Model Prisoner

Cops thought they'd busted the largest child-porn ring in Colorado history. But that's not how the case developed.

James Grady, they agreed, was not guilty. Of anything.

A free man for the first time in almost twelve months, Grady had lunch with his lawyers and then went home to live in his mother's basement.

In examining how this massive child-porn ring evaporated into thin air, one thing stands out: how little law-enforcement authorities understood the law. A review of court documents, as well as interviews with legal experts and participants in the case, shows that cops and prosecutors had far more than their share of misinterpretations, misunderstandings and flat-out mistakes. Some may have been intentional.

Choose carefully: One of the following photos of 
underage girls will get you busted in Arapahoe County.
Choose carefully: One of the following photos of underage girls will get you busted in Arapahoe County.

"They jumped in with both feet, without knowing what they were getting into," says Andrew Contiguglia, one of Grady's lawyers. "They didn't understand the law, and they didn't understand the facts."

When all was said and done, James Grady understood the law better than anyone. Today, despite the fact that he spent a year in jail and lost tens of thousands of dollars of equipment in the police raid, his Web site is back up and running. And it's displaying the exact same photographs that landed him in jail and on the evening news.

James Grady started taking pictures of teenage girls in bathing suits and lingerie for the same uncomplicated reason that Whammo decided to make Frisbees: People were willing to pay for them.

Born in Germany, Grady was adopted by an American Army couple who moved to Colorado in 1965. He graduated from Arapahoe High School in 1977 and, with the exception of a handful of years, has spent the last two and a half decades living within a few blocks of where he grew up.

Grady's first love was fast cars and bikes. A gearhead, he dreamed of becoming a professional motorcycle racer, but he was never quite fast enough and settled for the next best thing: He made sure his work always kept him around fast machines.

He landed in photography by accident. One day he accompanied his girlfriend, a makeup artist, to a photo shoot. It was nothing fancy -- pretty girls in bathing suits leaning against hot cars, the kind of pinup calendar hanging in any garage. "The photographer was a moron," Grady recalls. "He kept saying all the stupid stereotypical things: 'Make love to the camera, baby.' He was an idiot, and so I told my girlfriend, 'I think I could do it better than this guy.'"

The next day, Grady spent $400 on photographic equipment. He dabbled in pictures for the next couple of years, learning the cameras. In mid-1983, he set up his first official photography business: taking pictures of pretty girls in bathing suits leaning against hot cars. The pictures would be made into calendars, and Grady would hustle garages into buying them.

The venture lasted only a couple of months. But in that short time, Grady discovered an important truth: There was no shortage of girls who wanted their pictures taken. "We had way more girls than customers," he remembers. "We placed a few ads in the newspaper for swimsuit and lingerie models, and the phone would ring off the hook."

He turned many would-be models away. "They weren't suited to the work," he says. "Too overweight for the latest bikini, or too old." Many of the women seemed eager to believe that a professional photograph would confirm their beauty in some official way. "They'd beg me to hire them: 'Just put me in poses where my stretch marks don't show,'" he adds. "Over the last several years, I've learned that a lot of girls believe stuff they hear: 'My boyfriend says I should be a model,' or, 'My mom says I should be a model.'"

Grady thinks girls show up for modeling gigs for one of three reasons: money -- "especially nude jobs for college girls"; ego -- "They want to tell their friends they're a model"; or ambition -- "They believe it's a stepping stone to stardom." But, he adds, "for most teens, it's just fun."

Throughout the '80s, Grady started a handful of businesses, all featuring beautiful young women, tiny outfits and photography. He took portfolio shots and charged the girls for them. He promoted bikini contests at car shows; he'd pay the $250 or so first prize, take pictures of the winners and later sell them as posters or calendars. By the end of the decade, he'd also started taking pictures of girls with no clothes on at all.

"It was mostly soft-core, cutesy, topless stuff," he remembers. Much of his work ended up in Japan, or as background for adult phone-sex ads -- "topless girls sitting on a barstool," he says.

During this period, Grady worked with minors only once, when he tried to put together a calendar called "High School Sweethearts." It featured both boys and girls -- four girls in all, two from Colorado and two from Arizona. But he sold only 500 of the 5,000 calendars he printed.

Eventually, Grady's string of bad business ventures exacted a price. While trying to keep them going, he'd written more than a few bad checks. By 1990, the bounced payments caught up with him; in the fall of 1991, he was convicted of forgery. Grady never denied the charges, and was a model prisoner.

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