Francis Files Lawsuit, Alleges Civil Rights Abuses in Panama City

Oliver Sanders
LOS ANGELES — “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that seeks to rescind the no-contest settlement he reached in Panama City, Fla.

He also is suing for $300 million, claiming civil rights abuses from law enforcement officials in Florida.

Francis created a video message aimed at his supporters that urges them to “fight back against judicial and government corruption" that he posted today on his website

According to a press release on the website, Judge Richard Smoak put Francis in jail for criminal contempt during mediation in a civil suit.

Francis spent 11 months in jail after he pleaded no contest to child abuse, prostitution and other criminal charges.

He also pleaded guilty to bringing contraband — sleeping pills, prescription drugs and $700 in cash — into a Bay County, Fla. jail, according to an article by the New York Times.

Francis now alleges that he was coerced into the no-contest plea and is seeking $300 million in damages for the “illegal conduct” of Bay County officials, according to the press release.

"Panama City officials began their persecution of Joe Francis with open deception, continued with perjury, and concluded with illegal imprisonment," Francis' attorney, Robert E. Barnes, said. "That may be what counts for justice in Panama City, but it’s not American justice."

Francis' lawsuit names the parents of six of the girls as defendants as well as lawyers and county officials involved in the Panama City case. Francis claims Judge Richard Smoak conspired with the girls' attorneys to illegally imprison him and extort millions from his company.

“They threw me in jail and refused me bail,” Francis said on his website. “I was released 11 months later, but only after I was extorted by the judge to pay his former law partners a multimillion-dollar ransom. That’s not justice and that’s not the American way."

The lawsuit stems from a 2003 “Girls Gone Wild” Spring Break shoot in Panama City, Fla., when seven local underage girls posed for “Girls Gone Wild” cameras during the event and sued Francis and his company, Mantra Films, alleging that they were tricked. Francis, however, maintains the girls tricked his camera crews into videotaping them.

In addition to the filing today in Los Angeles Superior Court, Francis also is facing a myriad of other legal problems. Federal prosecutors indicted him on charges of tax evasion in April 2007 and he could receive up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted.

The charges state that Francis deducted $20 million in fraudulent expenses on corporate tax returns filed by Mantra Films. A trial is scheduled for Sept. 16 in Los Angeles.

He’s also being sued by Steve Wynn of Wynn Casinos, who claims that Francis owes a $2 million gambling debt.

Francis has pleaded not guilty to the tax evasion charge last month and insists that Wynn provided "alcohol, prostitutes and illegal drugs" to lure him into gambling. Wynn responded by suing Francis for an additional $10 million.