Thursday, March 13, 2008
Photo credit: Bauer-Griffin
"Girls Gone Wild" video empire founder Joe Francis pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution charges Wednesday under an agreement allowing him to go free after nearly a year in jail. Francis, 34, returned to Florida after posting a $1.5 million bond this week in Nevada, where he is awaiting trial for tax fraud. The hearing in Bay County state court resolved his 2003 criminal case involving the filming of underaged girls during spring break on Panama City Beach. "I have never committed any crime. I pleaded guilty just to get out of jail," a defiant Francis said after the Bay County state court hearing. "A few corrupt individuals were able to keep an innocent man in jail for 11 months." Francis makes an estimated $29 million a year on videos of young women in sexually provocative situations. He pleaded no contest to one count of felony child abuse and two counts of misdemeanor prostitution. He also pleaded no contest to two additional child abuse counts on behalf of his company, Mantra Films. The charges were all that remained out of an original 73-count indictment brought after Bay County law officers raided Francis' hotel rooms and corporate jet in 2003. He also pleaded guilty in a 2007 case for having contraband — sleeping pills and cash — in the Bay County Jail. Judge Deede Costello sentenced Francis to 339 days on Wednesday, the time he has already served in Florida and Nevada. Costello also ordered Francis to pay more than $60,000 in fines, court costs and restitution to the county. Francis also agreed that his company would not conduct any filming between Escambia and Jackson Counties in Florida for the next three years ... Francis said plea agreement negotiations are under way in the Nevada case and he hopes to resolve them soon. "I'm going to go back to making videos, this afternoon," he said.
Charming. Folks, if you have daughters, I highly suggest you keep them under lock and key as best you can. [Source, Source]