'Girls Gone Wild' Faces FTC Complaint

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The makers of the "Girls Gone Wild" video series enrolled consumers who ordered their products into a continuity program without their consent, the Federal Trade Commission charged yesterday.


Mantra Films and its founder, Joe Francis, entered consumers who responded to its Internet and late-night DRTV ads into a program that automatically sent them additional videos each month, the FTC said. Consumers did not know they had been entered, and Mantra's ads failed to explain the continuity program and inform consumers that they had to take action to cancel the shipments, according to the agency.


The FTC said it would seek $11,000 per violation and that Mantra and Francis had been engaged in the deceptive continuity program since December 2000. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.


In a statement, Mantra said that it had been in negotiations with the FTC for several months and that it expected negotiations to continue. The company said it was hopeful an "amicable resolution" would be reached and that it was disappointed the FTC filed the action.


"No Mantra customer has ever requested a refund and not received one," Mantra said. "Mantra is committed to continuing to service its many loyal and satisfied customers and believes it has acted in compliance with all laws and regulations."


A Mantra spokesman declined to answer further questions about the case.


Mantra and Francis, who is sole officer of the company and director of the "Girls Gone Wild" videos, are no strangers to legal controversy. Women appearing in the videos have complained that images of them in compromising states of dress were included in the videos without their consent, but so far Francis has successfully defended all legal challenges.


In November, a state Superior Court judge in Santa Monica, CA, threw out a lawsuit filed by a woman who is shown exposing her breasts at the 2002 Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans on the "Girls Gone Wild Doggy Style" video featuring rapper Snoop Dogg. In November 2002, a federal judge in Florida threw out a lawsuit against Francis and Mantra filed by a woman who appeared in the "Sexy Sorority Sisters" video.


However, Francis faces more serious criminal charges in Florida, where he in April was arraigned on 22 counts of racketeering, promoting and using the sexual performance of children, procuring minors for prostitution, possession of obscene material, drug trafficking and related conspiracy charges. The racketeering charges are first-degree felonies carrying the possibility of 30 years in prison.


The charges stem from the production of a "Girls Gone Wild" spring break special in Panama Beach, FL, this year and cite a March 31 incident in which authorities alleged that girls younger than 18 were filmed performing sexual activities. In November a judge threw out the drug trafficking charge, but authorities later re-filed a charge of illegal possession of the prescription drug hydrocodone.


In a press release following the dismissal, an attorney for Francis called the drug charges "absurd" and said that the state knew Francis had legal prescriptions for the drug. The attorney accused authorities of bringing frivolous charges and predicted that Francis would be found innocent.


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