When Steve Crow embarked on building a homegrown porn empire he vowed he would never lock himself away in a dark room with a fake name. It is this willingness to put his "head above the parapet", he claims, that has got him into trouble.

On April 16, after the collapse of four of his companies, Crow was banned from managing any business for four years. He was forced to resign his directorships and brought in brother David to run the companies. Crow continued to work in the office as a "consultant".

Now, the Herald on Sunday has learned the Ministry of Economic Development is looking into whether he has breached the management ban.

Anyone convicted for such a breach can face up to five years in jail and fines of up to $200,000.

Crow is fighting back. He's considering seeking a judicial review and suing the ministry for discrimination. It is the culmination of a lifelong battle with the establishment.

"I am an easy target," says Crow. "I'm the perfect person for them to have a go at because they're not going to lose any public sympathy."

Ministry enforcement unit manager Phil Day confirmed the investigation. It was prompted by a complaint, understood to have been laid by David Lane from the Society for the Protection of Community Standards.

"I honestly believe if I wasn't Steve Crow, if I wasn't in the adult industry, I wouldn't be banned," he says.

"Daniel Carter has just had a company going under owing a $1 million to creditors - do you think they'll ban him?"

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Crow's bland office in an industrial zone of Albany hardly looks like a headquarters of sin and debauchery.

There's no crushed velvet, no bunnies serving cocktails, not even any titty pics on the walls - just a photograph of an oil rig behind Crow's desk. The only sign of his line of business are a few boxes packed full of DVDs with titles such as Chubby Chicas #4 and Reign of Tera.

He says he doesn't like to be "too ostentatious". Last week, he bid $94,000 on a Bentley Azure convertible at Turners Car Auctions, valued at $700,000 new. But he would not drive such a car himself - he was just bidding for his friend, multi-millionaire property developer David Blackmore.

Crow detests the title "porn king", saying that mantle belongs to Sky TV boss John Fellett. "Sky Television sells five times as much porn as I do."

The trouble is, Crow has lately not been doing much selling. He linked the collapse of Erotic Expo to a bad turnout at the Wellington event in 2008 and low attendances elsewhere.

Boobs on Bikes was also "hugely down" and DVD sales had fallen. Crow said movie piracy had cost the business about $2 million a year.

The Herald on Sunday has been told by companies contracted to do work for the pornography business that their dealings were usually with Crow. He was named by those involved with the Boobs on Bikes parade as organiser for the event and named as "publisher" in the most recent edition of the pornographic NZX magazine - a listing he claimed was an error.

The Companies Office no longer lists Crow as a director of any of the companies - instead it names John Carr, formerly of Brass magazine.

Speaking from the United States, Carr says Crow's involvement in Boobs on Bikes is necessary. "Steve Crow is Boobs on Bikes.

"He's got to be allowed to earn a living and to be involved in public events."

The porn business is hidden within myriad company names and name changes. And although Crow calls the companies "his" Crow's name is not listed on any shareholding documents.

He did organise Boobs on Bikes, he acknowledges, "but it's not a business. It's freedom of expression."

Crow's former businesses still publish NZX, supply sex toys and adult movies and run the Erotica festival.

The businesses operate through Eden Digital, which took over after his previous businesses, Vixen Direct and Erotic Expo, failed in 2006 and last year.

Documents obtained by the Herald on Sunday show that Eden Digital got about $640,000 in adult movie stocks from the failed companies when it took over the businesses last year.

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Crow insists he is playing nice. He is trying to comply with the management ban but finds the rules too vague.

He sent a letter to the ministry asking exactly what he could not do but said he received a response that was "absolute waffle".

The letter from the ministry's senior solicitor, Robert Rendle, states "management" is "not capable of precise definition".

Meanwhile, Crow says he is trying to make amends - but he has gone outside the liquidation process to do so. Some creditors, such as key overseas movie suppliers, have been paid. Those not paid include Mashup Media. Shareholder Leanne Watkins said the company was owed $15,000 after putting together a television show tape for one of Crow's collapsed companies.

And Inland Revenue, owed about $250,000, has not been paid. It costs $1100 to get each movie cleared for sale by Internal Affairs, says Crow. "I consider that a tax."

Working for Crow

Model Erin Alberino has twice appeared on the cover of NZX magazine - much to the horror of her mother.

"Oh my God. That's my daughter," Alberino quoted her mother as saying. But Alberino said Steve Crow was easy to work with. Since being photographed for the magazine she has also worked as an extra on Go Girls, Spartacus and is soon to work on Shortland St.

The last time she saw Crow was at the Erotica Expo. "Boobs on Bikes was a big shock to him because it was not big at all."