Grand Jury Indicts Joe Francis for Unpaid Wynn Gambling Debt

LAS VEGAS—Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis got bad news on two fronts today. First, and by far the worst of the two for Francis, a grand jury in Las Vegas indicted the 37-year-old Tuesday on two counts of theft and passing a bad check, for refusing to pay back a 2007 $2.5 million gambling debt he owes casino mogul Steve Wynn, who sued and won in 2009 but has not been paid back the full amount. Francis has reportedly paid $500,000 of the outstanding amount.

Specifically, according to the indictment, Francis “knowingly, feloniously, and without lawful authority” committed theft when he issued a bad check at the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in 2007.

Francis has previously contested the outstanding debt, saying, according to ABC News, “He already paid the debt through prior arrangements and accused casino officials of reneging on agreed discounts.”

Wynn also sued Francis last year for defamation, accusing him of falsely claiming in public comments that Wynn threatened to kill Francis. According to the complaint, the defamatory statements were made on April 12, 2010, and repeated twice by Francis, to a reporter for TMZ and also other third parties.

In the second case, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that two of four women who sued Girls Gone Wild in 2008 for filming them in sexual situations when they were minors can remain anonymous during trial. The case has become a First Amendment test case, pitting Florida Freedom Newspapers against the plaintiffs in a battle to see if a reporter’s right to report all facts during a trial would be trumped by the women’s right to privacy.

According to the News Herald, which is published by Florida Freedom Newspapers, “The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling vacated a previous order by U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak that said the court would not issue mandates to the media on how to cover the trial or allow the women to testify anonymously in an otherwise open court, as the women had requested.

“Tuesday’s ruling only affects the two women in the hotel room because they engaged in sexual activity,” the article continued. “The women also said they drank alcohol and believed the drinks could have been drugged. The two women on the street flashed their breasts, Dubina noted, and that action does not constitute sexual activity under current laws. However, Dubina wrote that Smoak should reconsider his ruling on their ability to testify anonymously, as well.”

The paper also quoted John Bussian, who represents Florida Freedom Newspapers. “Florida Freedom and The News Herald are reviewing the decision to determine the next step. The company remains committed to the principles that prompted its challenge to the plaintiffs’ request to close the courtroom and to testify under fictitious names, and the company will continue to defend those principles in this case and in the future.” 

The Las Vegas grand jury indictment can be read here.

The Appeals Court decision can be read here.