Francis sentenced in underage video case


PANAMA CITY, Fla.-- The founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" video empire was sentenced to community service Wednesday for his company's guilty plea to federal charges of failing to monitor the ages of the women in its videos.

The company, Mantra Films Inc., also agreed to pay $1.6 million in fines for using drunken 17-year-olds in videos it filmed on Panama City Beach during spring break and failing to properly label its DVDs and videos as required by federal law.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak told company founder Joe Francis he added the community service because it did not appear a fine would be a meaningful punishment.

The fine represents less than 3% of Mantra films' profits since 2002 and only 12% of Mantra's 2005 profits, Smoak said. Francis makes an estimated $40 million a year.

"It does not take a very brave man to go out and corner a girl in the middle of spring break who had four drinks," Smoak told Francis.

Francis, 33, said his policy has always been not to film girls under 18 and that the girls filmed in Panama City lied about their ages.

The judge ordered Francis, his company president, general counsel and chief financial officer to each perform eight hours of community service monthly for the next 30 months. But Smoak said the corporate officers could avoid the obligation, giving Francis the option of "stepping up" and serving 16 hours a month of community service by himself in their place.

Attorney Aaron Dyer, representing Francis and the company, said he did not know if Francis would take on the entire sentence himself.

Smoak ordered Francis to read aloud in court a victim impact statement from one of the 17-year-old girls, who said she was emotionally tormented by her appearance on a "Girls Gone Wild" video and that the video damaged her relationship with her family.

Francis later left court without speaking to reporters.

Smoak ordered the company to issue a press release about its federal offenses and to publish the release in the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and The News Herald of Panama City.

Francis also faces a Jan. 22 sentencing hearing in federal court in Los Angeles on similar charges in which he has agreed to pay $500,000 in fines.

According to court papers, Mantra Films, based in Santa Monica, Calif., admitted violating record-keeping and labeling laws while distributing videos during all of 2002 and part of 2003.

Mantra issued 83 titles and sold 4.5 million videos and DVDs in 2002, according to Hoover's Inc., a business data firm in Austin, Texas.