“Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution charges today under an agreement that allowed him to walk free after nearly a year in jail.
Francis, 34, returned to Florida after posting a $1.5 million bond this week in Nevada, where he is accused of tax fraud. The hearing in Bay County state court resolved a 2003 criminal case involving the filming of underaged girls during spring break on Panama City Beach.
“I have never committed any crime. I pleaded guilty just to get out of jail,” a defiant Francis said after the hearing. “A few corrupt individuals were able to keep an innocent man in jail for 11 months.”
Francis makes an estimated $29 million a year on videos of young women in sexually provocative situations.
He pleaded no contest to one count of felony child abuse and two counts of misdemeanor prostitution. He also pleaded no contest to two additional child abuse counts on behalf of his company, Mantra Films.
Francis also pleaded guilty in a 2007 case to having sleeping pills and cash in his cell at Bay County Jail.
Judge Deede Costello sentenced Francis to 339 days in prison -- time he already had served in Florida and Nevada. Costello also ordered Francis to pay more than $60,000 in fines, court costs and restitution to the county.
Francis agreed that his company would not conduct any filming between Escambia and Jackson Counties in Florida for the next three years.
Miami defense attorney Roy Black, who brokered the plea agreement, said Francis believed the women his company filmed in 2003 were over 18 because they signed agreements stating they were of legal age.
“But it makes no difference under Florida law, they still committed a crime,” Black said. “I understand why Joe is so upset. In his business, you can be doing your job and go to jail for 11 months.”
Francis said plea bargain negotiations are under way in the Nevada case and he hopes to resolve them soon.
“I’m going to go back to making videos, this afternoon,” he said.