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'Girls Gone Wild' Boss Heads to Florida

  People in the News  -   POSTED: 2008/03/11 14:47

"Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis is being released from a Nevada jail so he can return to Florida to face charges related to the filming of underage girls.

His lawyer told a federal judge in Reno on Monday that Florida has agreed to lift its no-bail arrest warrant against the filmmaker, who is being held here on federal tax fraud charges. Francis has amassed a fortune marketing videos of young women, posing bare-breasted and in provocative situations.

Francis, accompanied by his lawyers, was to travel to the East Coast on Tuesday, and appear in a Panama City, Fla., courtroom the following day to resolve charges from the 2003 filming of girls during spring break, defense lawyer Fred Atcheson said during a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Robert McQuaid.

"Florida is not going to arrest him," Atcheson told the court. "What happens in Florida, I believe, will conclude the matter."

Atcheson gave the court a $1.5 million cashier's check to cover Francis' bail on the tax charges, and assured the judge that other conditions required for his release also would be met.

Francis, who turns 35 on April 1, has been jailed on both sides of the country for nearly a year, caught in a tug-of-war between federal prosecutors in Nevada and state attorneys in Florida.

His legal troubles began five years ago in Panama City, where he still faces four felony and two misdemeanor charges — all that remain from an initial 73-count indictment stemming from the spring break filming. His lawyers contend the underage women lied about their ages to an independent camera operator, and that none of the footage was used.

The incident also spurred a civil lawsuit brought by seven women. When court-ordered mediation in that case collapsed, a federal judge in Florida sentenced Francis to 35 days in jail for contempt of court.

Though he initially posted bail in the Florida criminal case, authorities there revoked it after Francis was charged with having contraband — $700 and prescribed anti-anxiety medication — while serving his jail sentence.

It was also during that time that a federal grand jury in Reno indicted Francis and his companies, Mantra Films Inc. and Sands Media Inc., on tax fraud charges. A federal judge ordered Francis extradited to Nevada to face those charges over the objections of Florida prosecutors.

But Florida's revocation of bail meant Francis could not post bond in the tax case without fear he would be re-arrested and sent back to the Sunshine State.

The federal government alleges the companies claimed more than $20 million in phony deductions in 2002 and 2003, and that Francis used offshore accounts to conceal income.

That trial is set for August. The charges carry a possible prison term of up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.


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