Francis Enters Guilty Plea

Michael Hayes
LOS ANGELES — Joe Francis, the man behind the “Girls Gone Wild” empire, entered his official guilty plea in U.S. District Court Monday, telling the judge that he had violated federal record-keeping laws under 18 U.S.C. § 2257.

Francis, who owns Santa Monica, Calif.-based Mantra Films as well as sister company MRA Holdings, entered his plea before U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow as part of a plea bargain announced by the Justice Department earlier this month.

Under the terms of the plea bargain, which covers multiple jurisdictions, Mantra Films entered a guilty plea in a Panama City, Fla. to 10 felony counts stemming from the same federal-record keeping violations and agreed to pay $1.6 million in fines. MRA Holdings entered a deferred prosecution agreement at the same time and agreed to employ an independent monitor selected by the government to insure that Francis and his operations keep with their promise to comply with 2257 going forward.

Francis entered his personal guilty plea in Los Angeles federal court, and under the terms of the deal, he will pay $500,000 in fines out of his own pocket.

Francis’ lawyer, Aaron Dyer, stood by him on the courthouse steps after the 30-minute proceeding, emphasized to reporters that the charges were for record-keeping violations, not the sexual exploitation of minors, adding that the girls who had appeared in the “Girls Gone Wild” films had lied to the company about their ages.

“No 17-year-old will ever be allowed to lie to Mantra films to appear on camera again," he said.

During the proceeding, Morrow explained to Francis that the maximum penalty she could have imposed for the record-keeping violations was 10 years in prison. According to LA Times reporter Claire Hoffman, who covered the case for the paper, Francis appeared not to understand the possibility of incarceration.

“Dyer, stepped forward, explaining to him that it was not the sentence he would be receiving because of the agreement, but the maximum sentence allowed for the felonies,” Hoffman said, adding that later on, outside the courthouse, Francis smiled and told the crowd that it was “all over, and no one went to jail.”

A formal sentence will be imposed Dec. 18, when Francis is next scheduled to appear in Morrow’s court.