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'Girls Gone Wild' producers fined $2.1 million

From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The entertainment company that produces the "Girls Gone Wild" films and its founder pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges they failed to document the ages of female performers in sexually oriented productions.

Mantra Films of Santa Monica, California, entered a plea agreement in a federal court in Panama City, Florida, the Justice Department said.

Authorities said Joseph Francis, founder of Mantra Films and a related company, MRA Holdings, also agreed to plead guilty to charges to be filed later in Los Angeles, and to pay fines and restitution totaling $2.1 million. (Read the agreement -- pdfexternal link)

The "Girls Gone Wild" videotapes -- often featuring young women heavily partying and baring their breasts -- are widely advertised on some cable television channels.

Mantra Films specifically pleaded guilty in Florida to charges that it failed to create and maintain age and identity documents for performers. The company also admitted it failed to label its videotapes and DVDs as required by federal law.

Court documents say the alleged violations occurred during productions titled "Ultimate Spring Break," "Girls Gone Wild on Campus Uncensored," "Totally Exposed Uncensored and Beyond," and "Girls Gone Wild College Girls Exposed/Sexy Sorority Sweethearts."

The Justice Department said the case is the first filed under a law designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.

The law, which prosecutors call Section 2257 -- is intended to protect minors by requiring producers to create and maintain age and identity records for every performer in sexually explicit movies and other media.

Distributors also must label their tapes and discs with the name of the custodian of the records and their location, prosecutors said.

"Today's agreements ensure that Girls Gone Wild will comply with an important law designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of minors and puts other producers on notice that they must be in compliance as well," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher.

Officials said Francis will pay $500,000 and his firms, Mantra and MRA Holdings, will together pay $1.6 million.

An attorney for Mantra, Aaron Dyer, told The Associated Press that the company would clean up its record keeping.

The charges involved "serious record-keeping issues that occurred several years ago," he told the wire service. "Mantra takes these issues very seriously and has done everything it can to make sure this never occurs again."

The case does not shut down "Girls Gone Wild."

Under terms of the deal, the Los Angeles charges against MRA will be dismissed after three years if the company fully complies with the record-keeping laws and fully pays the fines.

Joe Francis and his Mantra Films pleaded guilty to federal charges carrying $2.1 million in fines.



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