It’s been a wild ride for Joe Francis, producer of the “Girls Gone Wild” videos. After years of fighting the charges, Francis appeared in a Los Angeles court on September 23 and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, agreeing to pay up to the tune of $249,705.
When the hearing was over, he released this statement:
“I am grateful that Judge Otero accepted my plea today. I’m very pleased, if the judge accepts our agreement with the government, all felony tax charges will be dismissed, and I will not spend any more time in jail. I look forward to the complete resolution of this matter on November 6. Demand for the Girls Gone Wild brand has grown tremendously in the past 12 years and we have a lot of work to do to accommodate that demand. I’m happy to finally be able to redirect my attention to the business at hand, which is to provide quality entertainment for our millions of fans around the world. I want to thank Brad Brian, Greg Weingart, Susan Nash, and the lawyers at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLC in Los Angeles, and David Houston in Reno. The one thing I’ve learned about myself during this process is that I can be a difficult client, but they are a fantastic group of brilliant legal minds who recognized the truth when they saw it and had the passion to care about what happened to me. “
Prior to appearing at the hearing, Francis was set to go to trial in October on tax evasion charges for which he could have gotten up to ten years in prison. Instead, Judge S. James Otero gave him credit for time served -- 301 days -- with no additional jail time, and gave him one year of supervised release.
Francis agreed to admitting that he underreported income by about $563,000 and also that he gave more than $5,000 worth of items to two jail workers at Washoe County, Nevada, in exchange for food.
Originally he was charged with underreporting his income by more than $20 million by using fraudulent deductions for -- among other things -- a Porsche and a house in Mexico. The house, claims Francis, was used to entertain celebrities, and it should have been deductible. He announced not long ago that at his trial he would show the jury pictures of stars such as Orlando Bloom at the house in Mexico, as a way to show the house was a legitimate deduction.
Just weeks ago, Francis’s case took on a new complexion that may have helped him win a lighter sentence. He’d long maintained that his tax failures were the fault of his accountant, Michael Barrett. After Francis came under IRS scrutiny, Barrett turned him in, hoping to collect a large reward from the IRS. Now Barrett – who was scheduled to be a key witness for the prosecution – is the subject of a civil lawsuit. Along with two other former employees of Francis’s production company, Mantra, Barrett is accused of setting up shadow corporations and then using them to bilk Mantra out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Barrett and his co-defendants have not yet been arrested.