'Girls Gone Wild' founder's trial moved to L.A.

Empty

RENO, Nev. -- The tax evasion trial of "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis has been moved to Los Angeles by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval granted the change of venue from Reno, saying it was justified because Francis and all but a few of those expected to testify live in Southern California. The ruling, issued late Friday, was officially transmitted Monday to the Central District of California.

A federal grand jury in Reno indicted Francis, 35, and his companies, Mantra Films Inc. and Sands Media Inc., in April 2007, on two counts of tax evasion. Francis has built a soft porn empire filming and marketing videos of young women exposing their breasts and being shown in other sexually provocative situations.

Federal prosecutors allege Francis reported taxable income for 2002 of $13.9 million and paid $3.5 million in taxes "when in truth and fact, he then and there knew well and believed that he had omitted additional income," the indictment said. For the following year, he paid $351,727 in taxes on reported taxable income of almost $1.16 million.

The government alleges the companies claimed more than $20 million in phony deductions in those years, and that Francis used offshore accounts to conceal income.

Government lawyers opposed moving the trial, arguing that Francis "held himself out" to be a Nevada resident. They also said Sands Media is incorporated in Nevada, and that the company's account at a bank in Incline Village "was a significant tool in the defendant's tax evasion scheme."

Francis' lawyers said that while an address at Incline Village -- a ritzy community on the east shore of Lake Tahoe -- appears on some of Francis' bank statements, the tax returns were prepared and likely signed in Southern California.

Francis' trial had been scheduled to begin Aug. 26 in Reno, but a new date will be scheduled in Los Angeles.

Some of the testimony, lawyers have said, will focus on a house in Punta Mita, Mexico. The government alleges Mantra overstated deductions by including more than $1 million for construction as "false footage" and professional service expenses, and falsely claimed more than $1.9 million as insurance expenses.

Francis' lawyers, however, say witnesses will testify the home wasn't completed until 2005, and that it was used as a location to film commercial and promotional videos for "Girls Gone Wild" productions during the years in question. During a hearing last week, defense lawyer Jay Weill described the home as a "corporate retreat," that was "used by well-known people."
comments powered by Disqus