Joe Francis Pleads Not Guilty to Felony Tax-Evasion Charges

LOS ANGELES - Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis, 35, pleaded not guilty Monday in Los Angeles federal court to two felony tax-evasion charges.

Francis is accused of illicitly deducting more than $20 million in bogus business expenses on his 2002 and 2003 corporate tax returns, according to Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The soft-core king is scheduled for trial Sept. 16 and called the charges part of a "witch hunt." "We're going to win," he proclaimed to reporters before entering court.

Francis faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and $500,000 in fines if convicted.

Francis was originally indicted last year by a federal grand jury in Reno, Nev., on numerous counts of bribery and tax evasion after an IRS investigation. After spending approximately a year in jail pending trial, Francis won a significant victory and was granted a change of venue in May. The case was moved to Los Angeles and he was released on $1.5 million bail.

He will appear in court Tuesday afternoon for matters surrounding his release.

"We're not seeking to have him held without bond, because he's got the money," said Mrozek. "The issue is what terms and conditions will restrict him, like travel and things like that."

Francis' lawyer, Robert Bernhoft, known for aiding Wesley Snipes in his acquittal on tax charges earlier this year, maintained the charges were "bogus and the case was spurred by a disgruntled former employee," an unidentified CPA.

"[The allegations are] about an accountant who thinks he should be rewarded for his own mistakes, mistakes that will cost Joe millions of dollars," the attorney said before the arraignment.