Girls Gone Wild’ founder, Tahoe homeowner seeks release from jail | SierraSun.com

Girls Gone Wild’ founder, Tahoe homeowner seeks release from jail

Sandra Chereb
Associated Press Writer

RENO ” “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis, jailed for nearly a year in a tug-of-war between federal prosecutors in Nevada and state attorneys in Florida, has a new legal team he hopes can forge a truce for his release to prepare for his upcoming trial on federal tax charges.

“The bitterness and enmity of the Florida authorities may or may not be justified, but there is no reasonable justification for allowing a very public feud on the other side of this country to chill the plans established by this federal jurisdiction,” Fred Atcheson, Francis’ new local counsel, wrote in a Feb. 8 pleading filed in U.S. District Court in Reno.

Lawyers also filed a motion to postpone Francis’ April trial on the tax charges until August, arguing he’s been unable to review more than 22,000 pages of evidence behind bars and assist in his defense.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled Friday before U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval.

Francis, 34, began his video empire and drew the legal wrath of authorities in conservative Panama City, Fla., when he filmed underage girls baring their breasts and in other sexually provocative poses during spring break in 2003.

Criminal charges and a civil suit filed by the girls followed, as did a 35-day Florida jail sentence for contempt of court imposed last year by U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak for yelling at attorneys during court-ordered mediation.

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Francis later referred to Smoak as a “judge gone wild.”

That civil suit has since been settled, but Francis’ bond was revoked on the Florida criminal charges related to the filming when he was charged with having contraband ” $700 and prescription anti-anxiety medication ” in the Bay County jail.

During that time, a federal grand jury in Reno indicted him and his companies, Mantra Films Inc. and Sands Media Inc., on tax fraud charges.

Among other things, the Nevada indictment alleges the companies claimed more than $20 million in false deductions on 2002 and 2003 corporate income tax returns. It also charges that Francis, who owns a home in Incline Village at Lake Tahoe, used offshore bank accounts and entities purportedly owned by others to conceal income he earned during that time. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

After finishing his jail time for contempt in Florida, Francis was transported to Nevada ” but not without a fight from Bay County prosecutors, who unsuccessfully went to court to try to keep him in Florida, where he faces four felony charges related to using minors in sexual performances and two misdemeanor prostitution charges.

The charges are all that remain in an original 73-count indictment in the 2003 spring break filming.

In Reno last June, federal Magistrate Robert McQuaid set guidelines for Francis’ release in the tax case, including posting $1.5 million bail, surrendering his passport, avoiding his corporate jet and limiting his travel between Reno and Southern California.

The sticking point was a requirement to “resolve” the Florida bond matter.

Florida officials refused to rescind the no-bail detainer.

“We can all assume that the prosecutor would rather eat a live croc than drop the detainer on Francis ” ever,” Atcheson said in his motion.

Francis’ previous local counsel, David Houston, sought to get his client out of jail by asking Sandoval to issue a temporary restraining order against the Sunshine State. Sandoval denied the motion Feb. 12.

Atcheson now argues that Francis has complied with all conditions outlined by McQuaid, and points to a ruling last year by Smoak, the federal judge in Florida, who denied the state’s writ to keep Francis there.

“Mr. Francis has resolved the bond condition in Florida by obtaining an order that Florida must stand down during the litigation in Nevada,” Atcheson wrote.

The defense also proposed a retired Secret Service agent be appointed by the court to oversee Francis if additional safeguards were needed to ensure Francis doesn’t flee while on bail.

In their reply, federal government lawyers said Smoak’s previous order wouldn’t prevent Francis’ return to Florida before the tax case is resolved.

Florida officials have “a valid basis for denying Francis bail in his ongoing criminal matters and their detainer is therefore valid,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Caryn D. Mark and John P. Scully wrote.

They opposed any modification to McQuaid’s release conditions, including the appointment of a “baby sitter” for Francis.