‘Girls Gone Wild’ Pleads Guilty to 2257 Violations

Michael Hayes
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Mantra Films, which produces the “Girls Gone Wild” video series, has pleaded guilty to violating 2257 federal record-keeping laws, a Justice Department spokesman told XBIZ. Specifically, the company admitted to three counts of failing to keep the required records and seven labeling violations for its series of DVDs and videos.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Mantra Films and sister company MRA Holdings, both owned by Joe Francis, entered guilty pleas on the 10 counts before U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak, agreeing to pay $2.1 million in fines and restitution.

Under the terms of the plea bargain, Mantra and MRA will pay $1.6 million in criminal fines. Francis will pay $500,000 personally.

The agreement does not include a prison sentence.

“This case sends an important message about the Justice Department's commitment to protecting children from all forms of sexual exploitation," Assistant Attorney General. Alice Fisher said. "Today's agreements ensure that ‘Girls Gone Wild’ will comply with an important law designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of minors and puts other producers on notice that they must be in compliance as well."

Adult entertainment industry attorney Lawrence Walters told XBIZ that he was very troubled by the case, saying that facts such as these illustrate the constitutional defects inherent in the 2257 statute.

“What this is saying is that filming sexually explicit content in the setting of a spontaneous, public event is illegal,” Walters said. “How can you get records for a spontaneous event? Frankly, I’m surprised that the mainstream media is lapping up this line about child exploitation without considering the fact that they might be censored as well.”

Walters said that news stories depicting sexual content, such as a politician engaged in a sex act or naked pictures of celebrities — two stories commonly reported in the mainstream press — could be silenced because obtaining 2257 documentation is simply impossible.

According to Walters, requiring companies such as Mantra — or mainstream news outlets for that matter — to get records after the fact doesn’t negate the constitutional problem.

“Simply filming is a criminal offence, which means no company will take the risk,” Walters said. “That has a huge chilling effect on free speech, and this case is certainly something Reed Lee will point to when he argues the Free Speech Coalition case.”

One of the many constitutional problems with 2257 is its lack of a newsgathering exemption and the subsequent damage that does to the 1st Amendment, Walters said.

A recent Los Angeles Times article reported that sources close to Mantra Films estimated that the company does as much as $40 million in sales each year.

In court papers, the company admitted to filming performers and producing and distributing sexually explicit content during all of 2002 and part of 2003 in violation of federal record-keeping laws.

MRA Holdings entered into a deferred prosecution agreement concerning the 10 charges brought against the company. Under the terms of the plea bargain, the government has agreed to dismiss the charges after three years, provided the company abides by all of its obligations.

MRA Holdings has also agreed to employ an independent, outside monitor selected by the government as part of the agreement. The monitor will have complete access to the books, records, productions facilities and other locations to ensure compliance, a spokesman for the Justice Department said.