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California and the West

'Gone Wild' figure is fined $500,000

Joe Francis also must do community service for not documenting ages of everyone in his videos.

January 23, 2007|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge on Monday sentenced the founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" empire to 200 hours of community service for failing to adequately document the ages of performers in his videos.

The heavier-than-expected punishment handed down to Joe Francis in Los Angeles was similar to a sentence his Santa Monica-based production company, Mantra Films Inc., received in Florida last month.

Monday's sanctions on the 33-year old entrepreneur included two years' probation -- twice what his lawyers requested -- and a $500,000 fine, which Francis had agreed to pay under a plea deal with prosecutors.

Under that agreement, reached with the Justice Department in September, Francis admitted to filming underage women -- who were often nude and intoxicated -- for his videos. Francis pleaded guilty to two felony counts of violating federal record-keeping laws.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 08, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 96 words Type of Material: Correction
Joe Francis: An article in Business on Jan. 23 about the sentencing of "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis reported that he had "admitted to filming underage women -- who were often nude and intoxicated -- for his videos." As part of a package plea agreement, Francis and his companies were required to publicly acknowledge that their admitted failure to keep records of performers in sexually explicit material as required by federal law resulted in footage of at least two minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct being distributed. There was no mention of nudity or intoxication.

Monday's sentence marked the second time that a federal judge had surprised Francis with a community service obligation.

Last month, Judge Richard Smoak in Florida ordered Mantra to serve 32 hours a month for 30 months, eight hours of which Francis must personally serve each month. Smoak told Francis he could reduce the total number of hours required by doing more of the service himself. His attorney, Aaron Dyer, has said Francis would appeal the Florida sentence, which included a $1.6-million fine to be paid by Mantra.

Francis built a $40-million-a-year business filming spring-break revelers and selling soft-porn videos using late-night infomercials. The felony violations involved a failure to document the ages of women who performed in videos filmed during 2002 and part of 2003.

Federal law requires producers of sexually explicit materials to file documents proving that performers in sexually explicit videos are adults. The laws are aimed at preventing the sexual exploitation of children.

Francis' attorney argued Monday for leniency in the sentencing, calling his client an "exemplary citizen" and his crime "just a record-keeping violation."

But U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow told Francis she considered the charges serious and indicative of an "endemic" problem at his company.

The judge dismissed Francis' request to be able to travel without restriction to his Mexican villa. According to Morrow's sentence, Francis must seek permission before traveling outside the country on business or to travel anywhere for pleasure.

Dyer told Morrow that Francis had a meeting planned in China. The judge said Francis would have to file court papers before taking the trip.

Outside the courthouse, Francis said he believed he had been persecuted by the Justice Department.

"Of course I've been unfairly targeted by the government," Francis said. "What better target than Joe Francis?"

*

claire.hoffman@latimes.com

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