Joseph R. Francis
April 1, 1973
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation(s)||Entrepreneur, film producer|
|Known for||Founder of Girls Gone Wild, Banned from Television|
Joseph R. Francis (born April 1, 1973) is an American entrepreneur, film producer and the founder and creator of the Girls Gone Wild entertainment brand. Francis worked as a production assistant on the syndicated program Real TV before releasing the direct-to-video film Banned from Television in 1998.
Francis has, at various times, been convicted of tax evasion, bribery, false imprisonment, assault causing great bodily injury, dissuading a witness, and record-keeping violations; and has pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution.
Joe Francis was born on April 1, 1973, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Raymond and Maria Francis, the latter of whom was from Austria. According to Francis, when he was seven years old, the family moved to Newport Beach, California, where he attended Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Elementary School, and then a series of boarding schools. At some point, he lived in Laguna Beach and attended Laguna Beach High School. His first job was at a computer and video store.
Francis attended the University of Southern California's Business Administration program, concentrating his education at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. He also took several courses in film and television, graduating in 1995 with a Bachelor's Degree from the USC Entrepreneurial Program.
Banned from Television
Francis's first business venture began when he was working as a production assistant for Real TV, a syndicated reality television program that aired footage of extraordinary events that were not usually covered in mainstream news. It was there that Francis came up with the idea for Banned from Television. During his time at Real TV, people who worked in the studio would often view footage involving car accidents, violent attacks and other graphic events. Francis licensed the footage, which he then sold through the Banned from Television videos which he marketed via infomercials. The first Banned from Television video was released in 1998, followed by two sequels that were also released the same year. Some of the more famous footage included in the series was: footage of Luis Donaldo Colosio's assassination; the rampage of circus elephant Tyke; the executions of Roberto Girón and Pedro Castillo; footage of the Royal Jomtien Resort Hotel fire; and the death of Mary T. Wojtyla, a woman hit by a speeding train in Downers Grove, Illinois.
Other footage included: the murder of Pete Shrum, the murder of Lea Mek, the attempted suicide of Terry Rossland, the extrajudicial execution by burning of Rodolfo Hernandez, footage of the 1998 Cúa hostage crisis, footage of a 1990 Lucas Oil 200 (ARCA) race in which Slick Johnson was killed and paramedic Mike Staley was injured, and the deaths of motorcycle stunt riders Corey Scott and Butch Laswell. Due to the films' graphic content, Francis stopped the series after three films, because he found it too disturbing to watch them back-to-back. While viewing footage for inclusion on Banned from Television, Francis came across footage of female college students flashing their breasts during Mardi Gras and spring break. It was this footage that sparked Francis's next business venture with Girls Gone Wild.
Girls Gone Wild
Francis created the Girls Gone Wild franchise in 1997 when he began using direct-response marketing, such as infomercials, to sell videos that he had produced. The videos were of college-aged women who willingly exposed their bodies or acted wildly on camera. In its first two years, Girls Gone Wild made more than $20 million. By 2002, Francis had produced 83 different Girls Gone Wild titles and was airing 30-minute infomercials on all major U.S. networks. In 2005, the company planned to donate 100% of their gross sales of their Mardi Gras-themed DVDs to the Red Cross to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Abbey Wilson, who won Girls Gone Wild's "Search for the Hottest Girl in America" contest in 2012, became Francis's long-term girlfriend. The two appeared on season 3 of the VH1 reality series Couples Therapy. In 2013, Wilson's iPad, containing private sexual videos of Francis and Wilson, was stolen. In retaliation, and to prevent distribution of the video before it was sold to any media outlets, Francis's lawyer David Houston threatened, "When we catch you, we will see that you are prosecuted to the fullest extent of both the criminal and civil laws." In 2014, Wilson became pregnant with twins via in vitro fertilization. On October 7, 2014, she gave birth to two girls.
In June 2007, Ashley Alexandra Dupré alleged that Francis and his company filmed her without permission, but she dropped her lawsuit after Francis released footage showing her consent. The following year, four women sued Girls Gone Wild for allegedly filming them as minors. Francis represented himself for part of the trial, until the judge cited him for contempt of court and fined him $2,500 for asking a plaintiff during cross-examination if she was a prostitute. Francis hired two lawyers the same day to represent him for the duration of his trial.
In February 2012, Clark County, Nevada judge Mark Denton awarded $7.5 million to businessman Steve Wynn for defamatory statements made by Francis. In September 2012, a jury awarded $20 million to Wynn in a slander case against Francis for claiming that Wynn had threatened to kill him over a gambling debt. Francis's witnesses all denied hearing Wynn make such threats. The jury added an additional $20 million in punitive damages. In November 2012, Judge Joanne O'Donnell reduced Wynn's award to $19 million, reasoning that the jury's award was "speculative" and based on their dislike of Francis.
As part of his January 2015 no contest plea to child abuse and prostitution charges, Francis also agreed to settle a 2003 lawsuit which involved allegations of videotaping the exposed breasts of underage girls.
In 2003, officials in Panama City Beach, Florida, attempted to halt Girls Gone Wild from filming, prompting Francis to sue them for violating his First Amendment rights. The same officials arrested Francis for racketeering; he was released on bond. At a July 2006 hearing, the judge disallowed most of the evidence and in January 2007 dismissed most of the charges. Francis pleaded guilty to record-keeping violations, was fined $1.6 million and sentenced to community service. Francis later pleaded guilty for having contraband in his cell. He served 339 days and paid over $60,000 in fines.
In January 2011, Francis brought a group of three women to his home, leading to five charges: three misdemeanor counts of false imprisonment, one of assault causing great bodily injury, and one of dissuading a witness. On May 6, 2013, Francis was convicted on all five charges. He faced a maximum of five years in prison and/or $13,000 in fines. On May 22, Francis did an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, calling the jurors "mentally ... retarded" and suggesting they "should be euthanized." He later apologized for his remarks, but stated that he had been manipulated by the media.
On August 27, 2013, Francis was sentenced to serve at least 270 days in county jail, 36 months' probation, and was ordered to complete a Level 3 Anger Management course and a year of psychological counseling. Francis' attorneys immediately filed a new trial petition.
In April 2007, in Reno, Nevada, Francis was indicted by a grand jury for two counts of tax evasion. The Department of Justice alleged that Francis claimed over $20 million in false deductions on his corporate returns in 2002 and 2003.
In April 2008, the venue for the trial was changed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California. At a hearing in July 2008, Francis pleaded not guilty to tax evasion. His attorney, Robert Bernhoft, said that tax returns for the businesses were prepared and filed by a former accountant and not shown to Francis. Bernhoft said that when the accountant left the company, he reported the returns to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect a bonus from the Tax Whistleblower Program.
In September 2009, Francis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of filing a false return and bribery. He received credit for time served. In November 2009, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero accepted Francis's plea including $250,000 in restitution to the IRS.
In 2004, Riley Perez (also known as Darnell Riley) broke into Francis' home where he filmed a humiliating blackmail video and arranged for payment so that the video did not go viral. Held at gunpoint, Francis was forced to disrobe on camera. Riley has claimed that he was asked to do so by mafia criminals.
Francis's corporation GGW Brands, the parent company for the Girls Gone Wild entertainment brand, filed for bankruptcy in February 2013. The bankruptcy was meant to block Wynn Resorts from seizing the assets of the company for repayment of Francis's gambling debts.
In May 2015, a U.S. District Court judge issued an arrest warrant for Francis after he failed to comply with terms of his bankruptcy agreement. As of 2015, he was reportedly living in Mexico with his girlfriend and their twin daughters. Extradition treaties between the U.S. and Mexico are not applicable for civil contempt warrants.
Girls Gone Wild Exposed special
An episode of the TNT true crime anthology series Rich & Shameless called Girls Gone Wild Exposed aired on TNT on April 23, 2022, and featured accounts from alleged victims of Joe Francis, as well as a recorded verbal altercation between Francis and his wife, who was revealed to now be estranged from him.
- "Joe Francis – Biography, His Personal Story – MeetJoeFrancis.com". Archived from the original on 2010-05-12. Retrieved 2010-04-15.
- Mireya Navarro (4 April 2004). "The Very Long Legs of 'Girls Gone Wild'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- Michael Schneider (8 December 2002). "'Wild' infomercial struts its stuff". Variety. Archived from the original on 30 June 2019. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "'Girls Gone Wild' Founder Joe Francis Pleads No Contest to Child Abuse, Prostitution Charges". Fox News. 24 January 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
- "Joe Francis Biography". Star Pulse. Archived from the original on 17 October 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "Personal Bio". Meet Joe Francis. Archived from the original on 18 September 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "Business Bio". Meet Joe Francis. Archived from the original on 18 September 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- "About Entrepreneurial Studies at Marshall". Marshall. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- Rob Bailey (29 January 2003). "'Girls' creator will tape wild footage in Tucson". Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "Flash Prancing". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 21 October 2012.[dead link]
- Ariel Levy (22 March 2004). "Dispatches From Girls Gone Wild". Slate. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "'Girls Gone Wild' for Katrina". CNN Money. Archived from the original on 12 March 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- June, Daniel (June 5, 2013). ""Girls Gone Wild" Founder Has His Own Sex Tape Stolen, to His Chagrin". JD Journal. Archived from the original on January 1, 2018. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
- "Joe Francis' Girlfriend Abbey Wilson Pregnant With Twin Girls! – Us Weekly". usmagazine.com. 10 April 2014. Archived from the original on 20 October 2014.
- "Joe Francis' Girlfriend Abbey Wilson Gives Birth to Twin Baby Girls!". Archived from the original on 2014-10-16. Retrieved 2014-10-09.
- Mark Dagostino (3 July 2008). "Ashley Dupré Drops Her Suit Against Joe Francis". People Magazine. Archived from the original on 10 May 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Montaldo, Charles (8 April 2011). "Jury Clears Joe Francis in Civil Case". About.com. Archived from the original on 13 May 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
- McCabe, Francis (22 February 2012). "Wynn awarded $7.5 million in case against soft-porn king". Las Vegas Review Journal. Archived from the original on 1 January 2018. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "'Girls Gone Wild' founder Joe Francis loses in $20 million slander case". Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- "Jury adds another $20 million in damages against 'Girls Gone Wild' founder Joe Francis". Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- ""Joe Francis Catches $21 Million Break in War with Steve Wynn">publisher=TMZ". Archived from the original on 14 November 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- Mireya Navarro (4 April 2004). "Gone Wild and Gone All Wrong". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- """Girls Gone Wild" Boss Busted"". The Smoking Gun. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "Girls Gone Wild Catches Break". Emerald Coast Variations. 27 July 2006. Archived from the original on 23 December 2008. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
- "Judge Drops Most Charges Against 'Girls Gone Wild' Producer Joe Francis". Fox News. 5 January 2007. Archived from the original on 23 January 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "'Girls Gone Wild's' Francis pleads no contest to child abuse, prostitution charges". The Los Angeles Times. March 13, 2008. Archived from the original on June 9, 2010. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
- "'Girls Gone Wild's' Joe Francis Arrested for False Imprisonment, Assault". August 23, 2011. Archived from the original on June 14, 2013. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
- "'Girls Gone Wild' founder convicted of assault". Associated Press. 7 May 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2013.[permanent dead link]
- Galloway, Stephen (May 22, 2013). "Convicted Girls Gone Wild Mogul Joe Francis Breaks Silence: 'Retarded' Jury 'Should Be Shot Dead'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
- Saad, Nardine (May 23, 2013). "Joe Francis apologizes for 'retarded' jury remarks, plans appeal". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 26, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2013.
- "Joe Francis Sentenced to Jail". TMZ. Archived from the original on 27 August 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
- Richard Verrier (12 April 2007). "Tax evasion charges add to Francis' legal woes". LA Times. Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "Creator of Girls Gone Wild Indicted for Tax Evasion". Department of Justice. 11 April 2007. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- United States v. Francis, no. 2:08-cr-00494-SJO, U.S. Dist. Ct., C.D. Calif (Court case).
- "'Girls Gone Wild' Founder Fights Tax Charges". Accounting Today. 23 July 2008. Archived from the original on 18 April 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- "Joe Francis Cops Plea In Tax Evasion Case". North Country Gazette. 25 September 2009. Archived from the original on 5 September 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Baxter Holmes (7 November 2009). "Judge accepts plea deal for 'Girls Gone Wild' founder Joe Francis". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 10 March 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- What Is Real.
- Raphael, Michele (2018-10-01). "What Is Real: New Book Explores Life and Crime in Prison and Beyond". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
- Blankstein, Andrew (2005-12-21). "Alleged Extortionist of 'Girls Gone Wild' Creator to Stand Trial". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-07-28.(subscription required)
- ABC News. "'Girls Gone Wild' Files for Bankruptcy". ABC News. Archived from the original on 2014-04-29. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
- Katy Stech. "Joe Francis Says Bankruptcy Trustee Aims to Destroy Girls Gone Wild". WSJ. Archived from the original on 2016-03-15. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
- "GGW Brands, LLC | Central District of California | United States Bankruptcy Court". 2020-10-17. Archived from the original on 2020-10-17. Retrieved 2022-07-28.
- Katy Stech (19 May 2015). "Judge Calls for Arrest of Girls Gone Wild Founder Joe Francis". WSJ. Archived from the original on 2017-02-16. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
- Harding, Amanda (May 28, 2019). "Is 'Girls Gone Wild' Founder Joe Francis Still in Jail?". Showbiz Cheat Sheet. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
- Kardashian Pal And Girls Gone Wild Creator Joe Francis Has A Warrant Issued For His Arrest. perezhilton.com Archived 2016-04-09 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved April 6, 2016.
- "Rich & Shameless: Girls Gone Wild Exposed Cold Open". TNT. Retrieved April 20, 2022.
- "TNT's "Rich & Shameless" Debuts on April 23 with "Girls Gone Wild Exposed" Uncovering the Truth Behind Former Hollywood "It" Boy Joe Francis". Futon Critic. April 12, 2022. Retrieved April 20, 2022.