Most 'Girls Gone Wild' charges dropped


Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

PENSACOLA — A judge on Thursday dropped most of the charges filed against the producer of the "Girls Gone Wild" video series, saying the evidence did not support the allegations involving the filming of a pair of underage girls at spring break.

Of the more than 40 criminal charges filed, only four felony and two misdemeanor counts remain against series creator Joe Francis and his company, Mantra Films, Inc., after two 17-year-old girls claimed a "Girls Gone Wild" cameraman videotaped them in sexual situations on Panama City Beach in 2003.

The remaining felony counts charge that Francis and the company used minors in sexual performances and conspired to use minors in sexual performances, which would carry a maximum combined prison sentence of 40 years if convicted. The two misdemeanor counts charge Francis and the company with prostitution. The punishment for those charges was not immediately known.

In her ruling, Circuit Judge Dedee Costello said she kept those charges because prosecutors have said a photographer and a cameraman may testify at the trial.

But Costello gave defense attorneys until Jan. 31 to file motions to dismiss the remaining charges.

"We continue to believe the entire case should be dismissed and we will be filing additional motions seeking the dismissal," said Larry Simpson, an attorney for Francis.

Prosecutors dropped much of their case against Francis and Mantra Films in early December after Costello denied as evidence hundreds of hours of videotape seized from Francis' condominiums and private jet.

Costello said authorities had improperly obtained search warrants.

On Thursday, the judge dismissed those charges prosecutors planned to drop along with others.

Pending in federal court is an appeal of a related ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak, who last month ordered Francis and his three top corporate officers to perform community service and ordered the company to pay a $1.6 million fine for filming the same girls. The company in December agreed to pay the fine but then filed the appeal when Smoak added the community service for the individuals. Mantra Films Inc. pleaded guilty in the federal case. The Santa Monica, Calif., company admitted violating record-keeping and labeling laws.

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