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Joe Francis “Bag Man” fined $5,000; no prison

RENO, Nev. — A Hollywood associate of Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis was fined $5,000 Monday but spared prison time for his role as the “bag man” in the bribery of jail guards to help Francis when he was held in Reno on tax evasion charges in 2007.

Aaron Weinstein, 45, originally faced a felony bribery charge but agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of providing contraband in prison.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks said Weinstein avoided up to six months in prison because he cooperated with authorities in prosecuting Francis and two former guards at the Washoe County jail who acknowledged accepting thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.

“One could easily say there should be a short prison sentence here,” Hicks said Monday in federal court in Reno. “His cooperation and straight forward demeanor spared him that.”

One former deputy, Frank Hawkins, was sentenced in December to three years in prison and fined $4,000 for accepting cash and tickets to Oakland Raiders games from Weinstein. Another, Mary Boxx, also has pleaded guilty to a bribery charge and is to be sentenced by Hicks on March 15. A third accused in the case was acquitted.

Weinstein apologized Monday for his involvement in the bribes and the “negative impacts on the lives of a number of people.” He said he was especially concerned about any damage he caused to the reputation of the law officers at the jail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Rachow said Weinstein’s testimony helped lead to felony convictions of the two deputies as well as Francis, whose soft porn empire includes videos of naked young women.

A federal grand jury in Reno indicted Francis on tax evasion charges in 2007. A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced him in November to 301 days already served and a year of probation for filing false income tax returns and bribing the jail workers in Nevada.

“Mr. Weinstein was really the key to the whole thing and he’s the only one who didn’t get anything out of it,” Rachow said Monday.

“He was the `bag man,’ the go-between between Francis and the jail personnel — the `gopher’ if you will,” he said. “There was no personal gain to him other than keeping his job.”

Weinstein’s lawyer, Loren Graham, argued the maximum $5,000 fine should have been reduced. But Rachow said it was “not unreasonable.”

“No. 1, he has the money. No. 2, he is educated and had to know better,” Rachow said.

The judge agreed.

“That is a small price to pay for what has occurred here,” Hick said. He said he was troubled most by the fact that three career law enforcement officers “lost their jobs and left in disgrace.”

The third deputy charged in the case, Michon Mills, was acquitted Jan. 29. She had been accused of accepting a $4,500 Cartier watch and a $5,000 Saks Fifth Avenue gift card from Weinstein during a dinner outside the jail. She said she never considered the gifts bribes and returned them when she learned their value.

Mills, 39, Carson City, was in the courtroom during Monday’s sentencing and Hicks noted that he could tell that her trial “took an incredible toll” on her.

“There is no question in my mind it was the worst experience in her life,” the judge said. “I’m not concerned about Francis, but I am concerned about the impact on these other people. … Those effects were truly chaotic as far as the law enforcement people were concerned.”

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