Joe Francis gets plea deal

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Joe Francis has agreed to plead guilty to filing false tax returns and will avoid further jail time in a tax case that spanned two states and several years, court filings show.

Records filed Wednesday in Los Angeles show the "Girls Gone Wild" founder will plead guilty to two counts of filing false tax returns and one count of bribing Nevada jail workers in exchange for food.

The plea agreement states Francis will pay $250,000 in restitution and receive credit for jail time served. Francis was indicted by a federal grand jury on tax evasion charges in 2007 and has spent 301 days in jail. He will receive a year of supervised release.

The amount Francis is agreeing he underreported, nearly $563,000, is far less than the more than $20 million in fraudulent deductions prosecutors alleged Francis made. The deductions were for a Mexican home where Francis entertained celebrities, a Porsche, and other items.

Francis also will acknowledge giving more than $5,000 in goods to a pair of Washoe County, Nevada jail workers in exchange for food. Francis was held at the jail from June 2007 to March 2008.

He is scheduled to be sentenced at 2 p.m. Wednesday in a Los Angeles federal court.

Francis' attorney, Brad D. Brian, said Wednesday that he could not comment until after Wednesday's sentencing.

Brian has said in court that prosecutors didn't understand Francis' business model and that the expenses were part of building the "Girls Gone Wild" brand. Trial exhibits that may have been shown to jurors included clippings from magazines showing celebrities such as Orlando Bloom and Kim Kardashian joined Francis at the estate in Mexico.

The agreement comes weeks before the scheduled start of Francis' trial, which has been frequently delayed since a Nevada grand jury indicted him on tax evasion charges in 2007.

The most recent delay came after a key government witness, Francis' former accountant, turned over hundreds of previously undisclosed e-mails. Francis has used the e-mails as a basis of a civil lawsuit against his former accountant, Michael Barrett, and other former employees, contending they set up a shadow company and fraudulently billed him for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Barrett's credibility as a witness came into question in recent weeks, with the federal judge overseeing the case, S. James Otero, warning prosecutors that Barrett posed problems for them. The judge noted that Barrett had sought a reward for turning Francis in, even though he may have also committed a crime.

Otero told prosecutors during a hearing earlier this summer that they should consider resolving the case before it went to trial.

The agreement calls for any tax liabilities of Francis or his companies from 2002-08 to be handled in civil or administrative arenas.
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