Most charges against Girls Gone Wild producer dropped

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PENSACOLA, Fla. -- A judge dropped many felony charges against the producer of the popular Girls Gone Wild video series on Thursday, citing a lack of evidence to support the charges involving the filming of young girls at spring break on Panama City Beach.

Only four felony charges and two misdemeanor counts remain in the 2003 case in which Joe Francis, the creator of the soft porn video empire, was charged with more than 40 criminal offenses.

Prosecutors dropped much of their case against Francis and his company, Mantra Films Inc., in early December after Circuit Judge Dedee Costello suppressed hundreds of hours of videotape seized from Francis' condominiums and private jet. Costello said authorities had improperly obtained search warrants.

"We are very pleased that the judge has dismissed the vast majority of the counts," Larry Simpson, an attorney for Francis, said Thursday.

The remaining felony counts, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, charge Francis with using minors in sexual performances and conspiring to use minors in sexual performances. The two misdemeanor counts allege prostitution.

In her ruling, Costello said she did not dismiss the remaining felony charges because prosecutors have said a photographer and a cameraman might testify at the trial about the filming of the two 17-year-olds.

But Costello gave defense attorneys until Jan. 31 to file additional 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," Simpson said.

Pending in federal court is an appeal of a 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 underaged girls.

Mantra Films Inc. pleaded guilty in the federal case. The Santa Monica, Calif., company admitted violating record-keeping and labeling laws while distributing its videos.
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