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Many Charges Dropped against Joe Francis

PANAMA CITY, Fla. – All but eight of the dozens of felony charges once faced by producers of the Girls Gone Wild video series have been dropped by prosecutors due to a lack of evidence in the case that is set for trial next year.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Graham said he can support only second-degree felony charges of using children in sexual performances in his case against producer Joseph Francis, Francis’ companies and employees.

The remaining charges could be dropped at a Jan. 3 hearing when a judge considers a defense motion to dismiss all charges in the 2003 case.

Graham filed the motion to reduce the charges on Monday in response to the request from Francis’ attorney Aaron Dyer for all charges to be dropped because of police misconduct. A judge in July threw out evidence investigators gathered while searching Francis’ condominiums and private jet because of problems with the search warrants.

The second-degree felonies are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Phone calls placed by The Associated Press Wednesday to Dyer’s office were not immediately returned.

Francis, of Los Angeles, was arrested in April 2003 and charged with more than 40 criminal offenses, including racketeering. He is accused of participating in the filming of two 17-year-old girls in sexual situations at a Panama City Beach motel.

In Monday’s motion, Graham also addressed a defense argument that the Girls Gone Wild producers did not know the girls were underage. The defense has maintained the girls lied about their ages and signed a release saying they were 18 years old.

“Knowledge of the victim’s age is not an element of the offense of use of a child in a sexual performance,” he wrote. “Whether the minor girls lied about their ages is irrelevant to the criminal charge.”

A federal civil lawsuit against Francis filed by the two women filmed is pending.
 

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