Marshals Finally Find "Girls Gone Wild" Producer | NBC New York

Marshals Finally Find "Girls Gone Wild" Producer

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    Joe Francis, CEO of Mantra Films and creator of "Girls Gone Wild," at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel on March 13, 2008

    LOS ANGELES -- "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis was taken into custody Monday afternoon by U.S. marshals after he turned up five hours late for a scheduled Los Angeles federal court appearance, apparently suffering from the flu.

    Francis was originally expected in court at 8:30 a.m. for a hearing on his attorneys' request to withdraw as his counsel. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero waited 30 minutes for the adult-video entrepreneur to arrive and had his clerk attempt to contact Francis by telephone, with no success.

    At that point, Otero issued a warrant for Francis' arrest.

    When Francis showed up in Otero's courtroom after 1:30 p.m., indicating he had been suffering from the flu, U.S. marshals cuffed him and took him into custody, said defense attorney Melissa A. Weinberger, whose firm is representing Francis in proceedings stemming from Monday's bench warrant.

    "He's been sick as can be," Weinberger said outside court after Francis was arrested, adding that she would immediately attempt to have him released after he is processed by federal marshals. "It looks like the flu."

    The hearing that Francis missed was set to consider a request made by his attorneys-of-record, the Bernhoft Law Firm, to withdraw as his legal representatives for his tax evasion trial next month.

    In a court filing last week, defense attorney Robert E. Barnes said that Bernhoft firm decided late last year to end its relationship with Francis based on "strategic differences of opinion."

    The motion is pending because Otero has said he wants Francis to find new lawyers before he grants the current firm's motion to withdraw.

    Bernhoft attorneys refused comment Monday through their publicist. A call to Department of Justice lawyer Caryn D. Mark, who is prosecuting the tax case, was not immediately returned.

    Last summer, Francis pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to two felony tax evasion charges. He is accused of unlawfully deducting more than $20 million in bogus business expenses on his 2002 and 2003 corporate tax returns.
     
    Trial is set before Otero on March 31.