'Girls Gone Wild' founder jailed for contempt

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Blowing his nose and wiping away tears, the multimillionaire founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" video empire pleaded guilty to contempt of court Monday and was sentenced to 35 days in jail.

Joe Francis, who was sued by seven women who were minors when filmed, apologized to the judge for yelling at the plaintiffs during settlement talks.

"I am sorry for my behavior. It was wrong. I had heard about appeals and things and I was confused. I am sorry, I really am," said Francis, 34.

Francis drew the contempt charge during negotiations to settle the federal lawsuit brought after his production company filmed the women at Panama City Beach in 2003.

Attorneys for the women said Francis, who makes a reported $29 million a year taping topless women for his videos, lost his temper in negotiations and yelled obscenities at them.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak ordered Francis to settle the case or go to jail for contempt of court. When talks fell through, Francis lashed out at Smoak in the media, calling him a "judge gone wild" and questioning the judge's authority to order a settlement.

Smoak had ordered Francis to surrender to U.S. marshals by April 5 and begin serving time on the contempt charge. He did not return to Panama City from his California home until April 10, when authorities met him at the airport.

Francis has since reached an undisclosed settlement with the seven women. Francis had told The Associated Press that they wanted $70 million to settle the case.

Francis has said the women lied about their ages.

His attorney, Jan Handzlik, said being in jail had changed his client.

"He is a different man. Undoubtedly he is a different man," he said.


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