Couple bounced from Virginia computer fair

June 05, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore County couple hoped to spend a sunny afternoon selling what they called "fantasy ware" -- with titles like "Virtual Vixens," "Space Sirens" and "Neuro Dancer" -- and other CD-ROM items at a Virginia computer festival yesterday.

But Helen Schneyer ended up in a Prince William County jail while husband, Fred, strapped their 1,500-disk inventory, about a third of it sexually oriented computer software, to the roof of their Jeep.

"It's for adults. It's a free country. Why can't people see them?" asked Mr. Schneyer, 39, just before he paid his wife's $500 bail so they could drive home to Owings Mills.

Police arrested Mrs. Schneyer on allegations of trespassing. Authorities said she tried to re-enter the county fairgrounds after being asked to leave because of the couple's explicit display.

The Schneyers were among dozens of vendors participating in the Olde Virginia Ham Festival at the Prince William County Fairgrounds in Manassas, where more than 4,000 people perused displays of long-distance radio equipment, computer software and other video materials.

Mr. Schneyer said the event's organizers had given permission for the display of interactive CD-ROM disks marketed by his business, Pro-Software. He said the covers were hidden behind software cases so passers-by could not see the titles and artwork. He said he does not show or sell the goods to minors.

"We even had three Boy Scouts in uniforms come by and look at the display," Mr. Schneyer said. "I was very careful. I said, 'You can't see that. You're too young.' "

But Prince William County Police Sgt. W. J. Hurley said the materials were propped in an eye-catching spot at the front of the Schneyers' display table. After a heated discussion with festival officials, he said, the couple agreed to cover the items -- but only scantily.

"He started to put see-through covers on them," Sergeant Hurley said. "There were no restrictions as to who was going to be looking at these materials. It was the very first thing you'd see in his booth."

Sergeant Hurley said he asked the Schneyers to leave at the behest of the event's organizers, but added that local laws prohibiting the display of obscene materials to juveniles also would have justified their removal. Efforts to reach festival officials for comment were unsuccessful.

Mr. Schneyer said that, after a two-hour argument with police, he and his wife walked off the grounds shortly after noon. But the Schneyers didn't want the afternoon to be a total wash, so they tried to pay the $5 admission and re-enter as customers, he said. Police turned them away at the gate.

Mr. Schneyer said he was about to pull the car around and pick up his wife to leave when he heard her screaming and saw her being handcuffed. "The next thing I know, my wife is on the ground," he said.

Police say they did not arrest the three or four other vendors of adult software at the festival because those salesmen willingly hid their wares or threw them in their car trunks, while Mr. Schneyer was reluctant to do so.

But that's not how Mr. Schneyer saw it. He said he and his wife were rushing to pack up after the police order, but they could only move so fast because he is 60 pounds overweight and she has asthma and a bad back.

Mr. Schneyer, a father of three who runs a tablecloth and napkin business during the week, said he is a respectable businessman. Although he sold $400 worth of adult materials in approximately two hours there, he added that he also displayed educational products such as software Bibles, cookbooks and encyclopedias.

The adult materials range from still pictures on CD-ROM to interactive computer software.

"Couples buy these interactive disks and play them together for adult enjoyment," he said. "It's not shady at all. If I had known all this was going to happen, I would have spent the day with my kids."

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