Girls Gone Wild Drags and Drags… and Drags On

It was three years ago Monday that Bay County sheriff's deputies arrested "Girls Gone Wild" producer Joseph Francis and his crew on Panama City Beach.

Fast forward three years later and none of defendants have gone on trial.

On April 3, 2003, sheriff's deputies arrested Joseph Francis after four underage girls reported that "Girls Gone Wild" photographers filmed them exposing themselves in public.

Two 17-year-old girls said they were paid $100 to perform sexual acts in a shower, on camera, at the direction of a photographer.

Francis was charged with more than 40 criminal offenses, and more than 10 "Girls Gone Wild" employees were also charged. Some of them have resolved their cases without jail time and without a trial.

According to assistant State Attorney Joe Grammer, the number of defendants is part of the problem.

“This case has been going on for a long time, it has a large number of defendants, a large number of witnesses, large number of counts, a voluminous amount of evidence to be sifted through, and it just takes a little while to get all that in the posture that's ready to go to trial."

Prosecutors have confirmed that Francis' lawyers had cut a plea deal for him in January that would have ended his case. But the deal fell through.

Francis' attorney claims the alleged victims' lawyer threatened a national smear campaign.

Grammer admits the victim's families squashed the plea deal, but he won't get into the details.

"We reached an agreement in concept, a plea agreement and there were some of the girls that did not like that and Mr. Meadows (state attorney) said we're taking it off the table, so we're proceeding towards trial."

Grammer says he hopes the case will go to trial by this summer or early fall at the latest. In the meantime, Francis' Mantra Productions continues to crank out titles under the Girl's Gone Wild banner.

Francis' attorney has filed a motion in Federal Court to hold the victims' attorneys in contempt of court for killing the plea deal. Federal Judge Richard Smoak has not ruled on that motion.