Jailed Girls Gone Wild founder turns to online ads in legal case

The smiling founder of the Girls Gone Wild video empire stands shoulder to shoulder with President Bush, the White House in the background, in a series of online advertisements running on newspaper Web sites from Pensacola to Tallahassee.

Joe Francis, 34, engineered the ad campaign to gain support from any audience that will listen to his twisted legal story, which began in Panama City Beach in 2003 and now has him in a Nevada jail
cell.

"Marketing is what I do best," Francis told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Francis, who makes at least $29 million a year from his videos of young women bearing their breasts and in other sexually provocative situations, says he's now in a marketing fight for his own freedom.

"I have been vilified," he said.

He said he has been treated like a terrorist and likens himself to an enemy combatant in legal filings. He says that is why he chose to feature a picture of himself in the ads taken during a 2004 White House visit - a campaign donor's perk.

His attorney, Miami uber-lawyer Roy Black, jokingly suggests that Francis might be less self destructive if he were classified as an enemy combatant.

"That way he wouldn't have access to a phone," said Black, whose list of famous clients includes William Kennedy Smith and Rush Limbaugh.

Black said he has advised Francis against the jailhouse advertising and media blitz.

"Joe and I have had numerous yelling contests over this and I keep telling him how he's screwing up his case," Black said. "I'm sure the state and federal prosecutors are going to use some of the things he says against him."

Francis insists he has no other way other way to tell his story of legal injustice, saying he remained silent for five months before making his own case. It's not that he is ignoring Black out of stupidity, Francis said in a jailhouse conference call with Black, "these hillbillies (in Bay County) are trying to ruin my life."

Francis, who became famous in the late 1990s after he came up with the Girls Gone Wild slogan and began filming spring break debauchery, has been in jail since April when he was cited for contempt after yelling at attorneys during mediation in a federal lawsuit brought by women who were underaged when his production company filmed them in 2003.

That lawsuit has since been settled, but Francis' bond was revoked on criminal charges related to the 2003 filming when he was charged with having contraband ($700 and prescription anti-anxiety medication) in the Bay County jail.

Federal officials then extradited him to Nevada to face tax evasion charges.

Francis could bond out of jail on the federal charges, but would face extradition back to Florida to face trial on four felony charges related to using minors in a sexual performances and two misdemeanor prostitution charges. The charges are all that remain in an original 73-count indictment in the 2003 Spring Break filming.

Francis would rather stay in jail in Nevada than return to Florida.

In a prosecutorial misconduct motion, which Black filed Tuesday, Francis asks his case be dismissed and alleges Bay County officials
have a vendetta against him dating to 2003 when he successfully
sued Panama City Beach for First Amendment violations after the
city threatened to ban him from filming Spring Break.

"State attorney Steve Meadows' pursuit and prosecution of Mr. Francis has instead turned into a public persecution," states the 62-page motion, "Publicly vilified as a threat to our very institution of government and no better than scum-sucking trash, Joe Francis awaits trial before Bay County," the motion later states.

Joe Grammer, a spokesman for Meadows, said Tuesday afternoon he
and Meadows were still reading the lengthy motion.

"The motion, though referencing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, is largely a recap of the defendant's version of the
history of the case," Grammer said in a statement late Tuesday.

"When we have had the opportunity to read and digest all of the
materials presented; we will respond appropriately without the
assistance of a media relations or marketing firm," Grammer said.

Grammer noted Monday that Black had filed motions requesting Francis' release based on his mental health.

"He seems on top things," Grammer said.

Francis says his legal fight is about more than his own freedom, it's about bringing freedom to the people of Bay County.

"I want them to rise up against the good old boys," he said. "I filed a lawsuit standing up for my First Amendment rights and these people came after me. I believe I was set up."

Even if Francis' resolves legal case, he has other legal fights ahead.

A former sales representative of his Mantra Films Inc. and Girls Gone Wild filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against his companies and him in July.

The federal indictment handed up in April in Nevada alleges his companies, Mantra Films Inc. and its marketing arm, Sands Media
Inc., claimed more than $20 million in false deductions on the
companies' 2002 and 2003 corporate income tax returns.

The indictment also charges that Francis used offshore bank accounts and entities purportedly owned by others to conceal income he earned during the same time.

Francis also is charged with misdemeanor sexual battery in Southern California for allegedly groping an 18-year-old woman at a birthday party in Hollywood.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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