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.