Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis is a Free Man; His CFO Set Him Up

LOS ANGELES – A federal judge handed down a sentence in the tax evasion case against Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis today, ending the entrepreneur’s long legal nightmare.

U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero approved a binding plea deal and sentenced Francis to time served, meaning Francis faces no additional jail time. Last month, Francis pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of filing false tax returns.

The U.S. Department of Justice ended its lengthy investigation of Francis for tax evasion after it was learned that the chief witness in the case, CPA Michael Barrett, had secretly committed crimes against Mr. Francis, and then contacted the tax authorities in an effort to cover his tracks.

In 2001, CPA Michael Barrett was hired as CFO to handle the finances for Francis and his company, Mantra Films, Inc., which produces the Girls Gone Wild lifestyle brand. In 2002 and 2003, Barrett helped prepared Francis’s tax documents. In 2007, Barrett contacted the IRS Whistleblower program, soliciting a reward for information of possible tax evasion by Francis involving the very returns he helped prepare. The Department of Justice launched an extensive investigation during which Francis was held without bail for nearly a year.

Recently it was discovered that during his employment with Mantra Films, Inc., Barrett and two accomplices, Roman Pelikh and Will L’Heureux, conspired to bilk Francis’s company out of millions of dollars. Barrett then tried to prevent Francis from uncovering the crime by destroying company computer records and sparking an IRS investigation that would distract Francis and hopefully land him in prison.

Mr. Francis’s attorney David R. Houston says, “In this case, the Government obviously had an itchy trigger finger and when they were presented the opportunity to go after Mr. Francis, they fired without thoroughly investigating the allegations or looking into their star witness’s motives.”

To put the matter behind him, Francis decided to pay total restitution, back taxes and interest to the IRS in the total amount of $249,705, plus a fine of $10,000. In addition, Mr. Francis agreed to plead to two misdemeanor counts in exchange for having the charges dropped.

“I have asserted my innocence on the felony charges against me in this matter for two years,” Francis says.

“I have admitted that I should have and could done more to reevaluate one of the tax positions that my former CFO assisted me in taking. I accept responsibility for that. I trusted people who turned out to be crooks. It is unfortunate that the IRS and the Department of Justice were duped into squandering so much energy, and more importantly, so much taxpayer money, on coming after me, based on absurd and false accusations by a person who has since confessed to lying and committing crimes against me.”

Attorney Houston says in addition to Mr. Francis, another victim in this case is the American taxpayer.

“The cost to the country from these IRS bounty hunters is regrettable and disturbing. We hope this case represents an opportunity for the Government to reevaluate the IRS Whistleblower program, which is fraught with the potential for financial manipulation. It is unconscionable that the person who prepares a third party’s tax returns can then seek a financial reward for accusing that party of falsifying those returns. It is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”

Francis says, “I feel badly for people who don’t have my resources or stamina to defend themselves against these kinds of false charges. I lost a year of my life, and I felt it was my responsibility to send a message to the Government that they could not prevail in a prosecution where they completely ignore the facts.”

In addition, Francis says, “I want to thank Brad Brian, Greg Weingart, Susan Nash and the lawyers at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLC in Los Angeles, and David Houston in Reno. They are a fantastic group of brilliant legal minds who saw the truth and fought for justice for me, because they believed in my innocence.”

Now that the distraction of the tax case is over, Francis plans to announce details for dynamic growth of his popular Girls Gone Wild magazine, enhanced mobile video content, a new reality series for Mark Cuban’s HDNet cable channel and the continued worldwide expansion of the Girls Gone Wild brand. In addition, Francis is forging partnerships with a number of prominent celebrities and businessmen on numerous other ventures.

“Worldwide demand for the Girls Gone Wild brand has grown tremendously in the past 12 years and we have a lot of work to do to accommodate that demand,” says Francis. “I’m happy to finally be able to redirect my attention to the business at hand, which is to provide quality entertainment for our millions of fans.”

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