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Maker of 'Girls Gone Wild' is sentenced

December 14, 2006|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

The Santa Monica entrepreneur who made a fortune persuading drunken women on spring break to bare their bodies for his "Girls Gone Wild" videos will be making frequent trips to Florida, this time for court-ordered community service.

Joe Francis' Mantra Films Inc. was ordered to serve 32 hours of community service each month for 30 months. U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak in Panama City, Fla., on Wednesday challenged Francis to perform additional hours of service in lieu of his employees having to do it.

The company admitted in September to using minors in films and violating laws requiring the ages of actors in sexually explicit films be recorded.

Some of the videos cited in the plea agreement were filmed on Panama City Beach in 2003.

Smoak said he slapped the company with community service because he thought it would be a more meaningful punishment than an already agreed-upon $2.1-million fine, which he said represents less than 3% of Mantra's profit since 2002 and only 12% of Mantra's 2005 profit.

The judge demanded that Francis read aloud a victim impact statement from one woman who said she was emotionally tormented by her appearance on a "Girls Gone Wild" video, which damaged her relationship with her family.

"It does not take a very brave man to go out and corner a girl in the middle of spring break who had four drinks," Smoak said.

Francis is on the hook for eight hours of community service a month. Smoak suggested that Francis could shoulder the entire burden by giving him the option of "stepping up" and serving 16 hours a month.

Francis' attorney, Aaron Dyer, said he was unsure whether his client would take on more hours or what service he would perform. "It will be something that provides a significant benefit to the community," Dyer said.

Francis, 33, argued to the judge that his policy had always been to film females over 18 and that the girls he shot in Panama City had lied to him about their ages.

Smoak ordered Mantra to publish a statement detailing its guilt in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today and the News Herald of Panama City.

In September, Francis pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to two felony counts of violating federal record-keeping laws, agreeing to pay $500,000 of the $2.1-million penalty himself.

Mantra Films pleaded guilty to an additional 10 felony counts in Florida of breaking federal record-keeping laws and violating labeling laws for sexually explicit material.

After the sentencing, Francis left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said it was possible that Francis would be ordered to perform additional community service in California when he is sentenced in January on his own felony charges.

Since 1998, Francis has built a $40-million-a-year business around spring break revelry and youthful hedonism.

Dozens of "Girls Gone Wild" videos show footage of young women, often intoxicated, flashing their breasts for the cameras.

Francis and several of his employees also face separate criminal charges in Panama City's District Court, where much of the evidence against him has been ruled inadmissible.

A judge is expected to rule in the coming weeks whether the 10 felony charges remaining from the 77 original counts that Francis and his employees once faced will be dismissed.

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claire.hoffman@latimes.com

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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