JOE FRANCIS (Evan Agostini / Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that "Joe Francis and the Santa Monica-based company he built on soft-core "Girls Gone Wild" videos pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating federal laws designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of children and agreed to pay fines totaling $2.1 million."
These videos sold on late night cable feature young women, mostly college students on Spring Break holiday, drunk and enagaged in various sexually explicit positions and acts. Francis failed to keep accurate records proving the age of some of the girls featured in the videos.
From the article:
In legal statements filed Tuesday, the companies acknowledged that throughout 2002 and part of 2003, it filmed, produced, and distributed sexually explicit materials in violation of record- keeping and labeling laws. Those laws require producers not only to maintain proof of age and identification for performers, but also to carry labels on their videos saying where those documents can be found.
"We regret that this occurred and will make sure that no other minors are used in 'Girls Gone Wild' films," Francis said in his court statement.
Since 1998, Francis has built a business around spring-break revelry and youthful hedonism. The company has released dozens of "Girls Gone Wild" films featuring real footage of young women, often intoxicated, bouncing around bars and beaches and flashing their breasts for the cameras.
A portion of the evidence used by the Justice Department investigation that resulted in Tuesday's guilty pleas came from a separate case filed in Panama City in 2003. The state attorney's office filed a 77-count complaint in Florida circuit court that alleged that Francis and his crew took a 16-year-old girl and four 17-year-old girls to a motel and paid them to engage in sexual conduct with one another in a shower in front of his cameras. He also paid two of the girls $50 each to engage in sexual actions with him, according to the complaint. Authorities seized film footage, Francis' Ferrari and his personal jet.
Francis pleaded not guilty to all charges. After a judge last month suppressed all the evidence, saying it was illegally obtained, Dyer said he would seek to have the case dismissed. He said Tuesday's agreement would have no bearing on the state criminal case in Panama City.
Also pending is a civil case alleging child abuse and sexual exploitation, which was filed against Francis, his crew and his company by the parents of the young women in Panama City.
Based on evidence seized in Panama City, federal investigators stepped in and obtained a search warrant for Mantra Films' Santa Monica office. The FBI has confirmed that it conducted a search of Francis' offices in September 2005.