Girls Gone Wild Beats Child Porn Rap

Gretchen Gallen
PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Girls Gone Wild owner and producer Joe Francis got off the hook on a child porn charge this week after a judge decided that featuring an underage girl on a Girls Gone Wild videotape was not a child porn offense.

Francis was charged with a total of 43 counts of racketeering related to prostitution and possession of illegal substances last April, 2003, following a search and seizure of his Florida home.

Many of the 43 counts pertain to conduct that is considered illegal or pornographic, along with drug charges. One of the drug charges, possession of oxycodone, was dropped when Francis was able to prove he had a prescription for the highly addictive painkiller.

The criminal charges against Francis stem from a session last spring when the Girls Gone Wild camera crew was visiting Panama City Beach in search of girls willing to bare their breasts for the camera.

The prosecution is claiming that Francis and his employees deliberately tried to film underage girls, although Francis claims that girls frequently lied about their ages.

At the time of the Florida shoot, Bay County sheriff's deputies arrested Francis after raiding his home, offices, and jet. Charges against Francis resulted from the seizure of videotapes and drugs.

But this week, Circuit Judge Michael C. Overstreet ruled that the defense was allowed to copy a videotape that included a girl known to be underage at the time of the video shoot as evidence in their case, whereas prosecutors had been vying to keep the tape out of the hands of the defense based on the grounds that it contained child pornography.

The defense was able to prove that the definition child pornography in the state of Florida did not apply to the tape because there was no physical contact with the girl. The girl was allegedly just under 18 years at the time of the video shoot.

Girls Gone Wild is a subscription-based business that markets tapes of college-age girls getting naked and crazy on Spring Break and other college-oriented party fests.

Mantra Entertainment, Francis' company, has celebrated huge success since launching Girls Gone Wild content over the Internet and in DVD and VHS format.

According to Francis' lawyer, Aaron Dyer, this week's ruling diminishes the criminal case against his client by a huge margin.

During a date with former girlfriend Paris Hilton in November, 2003, Francis was harassed by security guards at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Francis was mistaken for a prankster who had jumped into the hotel lobby fish tank. A lawsuit against the MGM Grand is still pending.

Francis was not available for comment at the time of this printing.