Look out ladies—Joe Francis is a free man again! The alleged arm-twisting sexual aggressor and loathsome Girls Gone Wild founder copped a guilty plea yesterday, ending his battle with federal prosecutors over tax evasion.
Francis, who has been out on bail pending his trial, agreed yesterday to plead guilty to two counts of submitting false tax returns omitting $562,000 in income and one count of bribery for paying more than $5,000 to his prison guards for contraband food. In exchange, prosecutors will recommend a sentence of time served (he spent 10 months in federal prison awaiting trial in 2007 and 2008), one year of probation, and a $250,000 fine.
The plea came just weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin, and the Associated Press suggests that it was precipitated by credibility issues that recently came to light about the government's star witness, Francis' former accountant Michael Barrett:
Barrett's credibility as a witness came into question in recent weeks, with Otero warning prosecutors that Barrett posed problems for them. The judge noted that Barrett had sought a reward for turning Francis in, even though he may have also committed a crime.
Otero told prosecutors during a hearing earlier this summer that they should consider resolving the case before it went to trial. He had also questioned Francis' ability to control himself in the courtroom during the trial, nearly sending him to jail when he learned that Francis had taunted a prosecutor.
According to TMZ, Francis has sued Barrett, claiming he embezzled millions of dollars and falsely ratted out Francis to the IRS in the hopes of keeping the scheme from being uncovered. That sounds like a conspiratorial revenge fantasy, but the sudden and late plea agreement suggests that prosecutors may have thought Francis was on to something.
Sentencing is due in November. According to the terms of the agreement shown below, it's about as good a bet as you'll find that Francis will be back in prison within days: