'Girls Gone Wild' founder faces contempt charges

The founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” video empire surrendered to federal marshals early Tuesday to face a contempt of court citation after initially defying a federal judge.

Joe Francis was booked into the Bay County Jail in Pensacola, Fla., said Ruth Sasser, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. “His attorneys continue to work toward a settlement,” Kevin Mercuri, a spokesman for Francis, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

Francis, 34, makes an estimated $29 million a year from videos of young women baring their breasts and in other sexually provocative situations.

He drew the contempt citation during negotiations in a civil lawsuit brought by seven women who were underage when they were filmed by his company on Panama City Beach, Fla., during spring break in 2003.

Lawyers for the women told U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak that Francis became enraged during the settlement talks, shouting obscenities at the lawyers and threatening to “bury them.” Smoak ordered Francis to settle the case or go to jail for his behavior.

Negotiations continued with the help of a mediator, but broke down Thursday, and Smoak issued a contempt of court warrant.

Francis initially refused to surrender and called Smoak “a judge gone wild.”

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta refused to let him remain free pending an appeal.

Francis had said Thursday he would settle the case to avoid jail time. “I’ll give up a billion dollars, but it will be under duress,” he said, arguing that any money given would be voided in an appeal.

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