Source AP ©

Girls Gone Wild founder receives jail sentence

The founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" video empire was found guilty of contempt in court and received a jail sentence of 35 days.

Joe Francis, who makes a reported $29 million (21 million EUR) a year on videos of women found at beach parties and other occasions exposing their breasts for the camera, drew the original contempt charge during negotiations in a lawsuit brought by seven women who were minors when filmed by his production company on a Florida beach in 2003.

Attorneys for the women said Francis lost his temper in settlement negotiations and yelled obscenities at them.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak ordered Francis to settle the case or go to jail for contempt of court. When settlement negotiations fell through, Francis lashed out at Smoak in the media, calling him a "judge gone wild," and questioning the judge's authority to order him to settle a civil lawsuit.

He apologized to the judge Monday.

"I am sorry for my behavior. It was wrong. I had heard about appeals and things and I was confused. I am sorry, I really am," said Francis, who cried throughout the 45-minute hearing.

Smoak had ordered Francis to surrender to U.S. Marshals by noon on April 5 and begin serving time on the contempt charge. Francis did not return to Panama City from his Santa Monica, California, home until the morning of April 10, when he was met at the airport by U.S. Marshals and later booked into the Bay County Jail.

Francis has since reached an undisclosed settlement with the seven women in the civil case. Francis had told The Associated Press that the women wanted $70 million (51.6 million EUR) to settle the case.

Smoak sentenced Francis on Monday for ignoring the contempt order and refusing to surrender when ordered.

"It seems like at every opportunity he made clear his intent to disobey this court," Smoak told Francis' attorney. "This final act of contempt was the last of many things in this case. Mr. Francis' behavior at the mediation was hostile, obscene, vulgar and abusive. Every effort was made to avoid getting to this point."

Monday's hearing is just one of several legal issues Francis is facing in Florida, Nevada and California.

In Florida, Francis is facing state charges for allegedly offering a jail guard $100 (70 EUR) for a bottled water and having prescription sleeping pills in his Bay County Jail cell.

Francis was also indicted this month by a federal court in Reno, Nevada, on charges that his companies claimed more than $20 million (14 million EUR) in false business expenses. The indictment also charges that Francis improperly concealed income.

He is on probation on a federal criminal case in Los Angeles for violating federal laws designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of minors. A judge in Los Angeles will have to determine whether Francis violated his probation as a result of his actions in Florida, Handzlik said.

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