'Girls Gone Wild' Founder Guilty of Poor Record-Keeping

July 7, 2008 - 7:23 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The owner of the company that produced the now famous and sexually explicit "Girls Gone Wild" videos will be sentenced in December for failing to ensure that proper age and identity records of his performers were kept.

The videos, featuring intoxicated and unclad young women on spring break in Panama City, Fla., have been hawked on cable television during the late night and early morning hours for years.

Joseph Francis, founder and sole shareholder of Mantra Films, Inc., pleaded guilty this week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. During his next court appearance, scheduled for Dec. 18, Francis is expected to be sentenced to probation. But it's also expected that he will have to pay fines and restitution totaling $500,000, while his companies pay $1.6 million.

Separate plea agreements were entered for the Santa Monica, Calif., based Mantra Films Inc., and Francis' related company - MRA Holdings Inc. - on Sept. 12, in U.S. District Court in Panama City, Fla., the city where Francis' video crews operate. Francis is still in business, despite the plea agreements.

"Mantra Films, Inc., MRA Holdings Inc. and I admit that during 2002 and at times in 2003, we produced and distributed videos without obtaining the required records or attaching appropriate labeling," Francis stated in his plea.

His lawyer Aaron Dyer, however, tried to clarify the limit of Francis' legal violations.

"The charges do not allege that Mr. Francis or anyone else intentionally or knowingly filmed any females under the age of 18. Instead, the charges resulted from an instance in 2002 where a woman three months shy of her 18th birthday lied about her age in order to get filmed," Dyer stated in a release Monday. "Unfortunately, the company did not have sufficient procedures in place to guard against that conduct."

The prosecution of Francis and his companies is being conducted by the Justice Department's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, with assistance from the U.S. attorney's office in the Northern District of Florida. The FBI's Adult Obscenity Squad handled the investigation.

It is the first time, according to the Justice Department that the strategy announced in May 2006 by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, resulted in a prosecution. Gonzales ordered the FBI to conduct regular inspections of records kept by producers of sexually explicit materials. Producers of such materials are now required to keep records on performers that include their real names and dates of birth. Producers are also required to produce these records on demand to prevent the hiring of minors in these films and other media.

"This case sends an important message about the Justice Department's commitment to protecting children from all forms of sexual exploitation," said Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher in a press release.

"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."

But Dyer and Francis said they want the public to know that the legal problems revolve around record keeping, not exploiting minors.

"Let me emphasize that this plea is only about a failure to keep adequate records. It has nothing to do with exploitation of minors," said Dyer.

"These were simple recordkeeping violations from way back in 2002, when his fledgling company was just beginning to film its own footage and hadn't completely developed its recordkeeping procedures," Dyer added. "The company has already implemented controls that will ensure that this will not happen again. It had begun implementing those controls even before the federal government reared its head."

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