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Alleged Videotaping for Extortion Described

December 20, 2005|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

The creator of the "Girls Gone Wild" video series testified Monday about an alleged shakedown attempt at his Bel-Air mansion, saying that he was "scared to death" when a Los Angeles man broke in and forced him at gunpoint to partially disrobe and pose for a demeaning videotape.

Joe Francis, 32, who made a fortune persuading young women to bare their breasts for the camera, testified at the preliminary hearing for Darnell Riley, 28, who is accused of six felony counts of burglary, robbery, carjacking, kidnapping and attempted extortion.

Francis testified that after he returned home from a night of partying Jan. 22, 2004, Riley broke in, pulled a gun on him and videotaped him, seminude, making sexually humiliating comments about himself. He then threatened to distribute the video unless Francis paid him $300,000 to $500,000.

Riley has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His defense attorney, Ronald Richards, is expected to take most of today to cross-examine Francis. A cornerstone of the defense will be that Riley and Francis knew each other before the night of the break-in, Richards has said. Francis testified that they had no relationship.

Police were tipped to the case by tabloid magnate and socialite Paris Hilton, Francis' former girlfriend, who told police that she heard discussion of the alleged plot at a party. The case has been catnip to such gossip and scandal-obsessed websites as Defamer, which lavished attention on the videotape's supposed contents.

Over prosecutor Hoon Chun's objections, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Bernard F. Kemper on Monday allowed the media to film portions of the partially obscured video when it was presented in court, but banned broadcasters from televising Francis' testimony.

"The court has seen gorier things, and so has the public," Kemper said of the video.

Francis testified for nearly four hours, at times wringing his hands in apparent discomfort.

Francis said Riley grabbed things "like he was on a shopping spree," collecting Louis Vuitton luggage and a Picasso drawing before demanding money from an upstairs safe. Later, the intruder forced Francis to lie on his bed with his pants down, then switched on a video camera and said, "I'm going to put this on the Internet and make money."

Francis said Riley took his watch, $1,100 in cash and his cellphone but demanded more. "He said, 'I need $100,000 in cash right now or you're going to die,' " Francis testified. "I had a gun to my head." Later, in his office, Riley upped the demands to $300,000 to $500,000, Francis testified. .

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