Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis: Sleazeball or victim? Probably both

Categories: Popular Culture

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Cheese! Joe Francis in 2003.
Consider this scenario: The guy who created Girls Gone Wild, the collection of Mardi Gras tit-flashing videos popular with frat-boys and lonely unskilled laborers everywhere, offers to give three girls a ride to their car -- but then instead of taking them to their car, despite their protests, takes them back to his mansion. Then he grabs one by the hair and slams her face into a tile floor several times. It's the kind of story that's almost too priceless not to be true, just based on that, you know, the guy is Joe Francis, the guy that started Girls Gone Wild. On the other hand, just based on that he started Girls Gone Wild, you can kind of imagine he's a magnet for this kind of shit -- and his past history of troubles with the law suggests it.

Last night, Francis turned himself into the LAPD on counts of false imprisonment, assault and dissuading the witness from making a report on those exact allegations, later to be released on a $50,000 bail. Today, he claimed he's got video evidence from his security cameras to prove that it was in fact two of the girls that got into a fight -- he had nothing to do with the violence. But whatever the actual events were, Francis has a lengthy record of lawsuits and convictions against him, and while those convictions don't exactly support that Joe Francis is a shining beacon of class and good taste, they also add up to seemingly worse luck than usual. Let's take a look:

Joe Francis the sleazeball: Francis had already been doing Girls Gone Wild films for six years when things went wrong in Panama City, FL, in 2003, when the father of one of two girls filmed in a shower scene came forward to reveal that the two girls were underage -- both were 17. Some 70 charges resulted, and Francis' private jet was confiscated.

Joe Francis the victim: Before that happened, though, government officials in Panama City had been cracking down on public lewdness and interfering with Francis' filming; he sued and forced them to back off. So when the girl's father came forward, extreme retaliation ensued, with authorities busting in on a faulty search warrant and a litany of bogus charges, including drug trafficking -- as it turned out, no drugs were even found among Francis' things. The judge ended up throwing out most of the charges.

Joe Francis the sleazeball: Despite the fact that most of the criminal charges were dropped, the two underage girls Francis had filmed took him to court on civil charges of "emotional distress," and the parties were ordered into mediation. That was evidently too much for Francis, and he got verbally abusive, the girls' lawyers alleged, which landed him in jail for contempt of court. While in jail, he tried to bribe a guard with $100 for a bottle of water, and then offered him $500.

Joe Francis the victim: The guard-bribing was the move of a rich douchebag, but probably the resultant charges of bribery were a little much. Also, get this: The lawyer of the two girls who successfully angled for the contempt order, it turns out, was the former law partner of the judge in that case. Oh snap.

Joe Francis the sleazeball: After serving close to a year on that and the resultant charges, Francis went ahead and pleaded No Contest to child abuse and prostitution charges -- essentially admitting guilt -- which allowed him to get out of jail on time served.

Joe Francis the victim: But, as he pointed out afterward, both girls in the original shower scene had signed release forms certifying that they were at least 18 and consenting to being shot. He probably should have gone ahead and checked their IDs or something, sure, but it sure does make the "emotional distress" sound like bullshit.

As we can clearly see, Joe Francis is obviously no saint, but it does make you wonder: What are the consequences of a guy who makes his living filming tits -- or, as the Associated Press likes to put it in every article it writes about him, "Francis makes an estimated $29 million a year from videos of young women exposing their breasts and being shown in other sexually provocative situations" -- in a society that may not take kindly to that line of work?

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