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Sex charge against ‘Girls Gone Wild’ founder

Joe Francis, the millionaire founder of the “Girls Gone Wild” video empire, was charged Wednesday with misdemeanor sexual battery for allegedly groping an 18-year-old woman.

Francis allegedly touched the woman’s breast and buttocks repeatedly despite pleas to stop, said city attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan.

Mateljan said the alleged incident took place at a Jan. 10 birthday party at the Geisha House in Hollywood. The victim, whose name wasn’t disclosed, filed a police report.

Arraignment was set for May 22 at the Hollywood courthouse. Francis, 34, isn’t required to appear. If convicted, he could be sentenced to six months in jail and fined $2,000, Mateljan said.

Francis on Monday was sentenced to 35 days in jail in Florida for criminal contempt and was indicted in Nevada this month for federal tax evasion.

“When it rains it pours,” said Los Angeles attorney Jan Handzlik, who has been representing Francis in Florida. “The timing of this is not coincidental. The incident on which this is based is over three months old. This is undoubtedly designed to take advantage of Joe’s other legal problems.”

Francis publicist Barry Roesler in New York said there would be no immediate comment.

Francis makes an estimated $29 million a year from videos of young women exposing their breasts and being shown in other sexually provocative situations.

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He drew the Florida contempt citation during negotiations in a civil lawsuit brought by seven women who were underage when they were filmed by his company on Panama City Beach during spring break in 2003. He is scheduled for release May 13, but other allegations are pending.

Francis was indicted April 11 by a federal grand jury in Reno, Nev., on charges that his companies claimed millions of dollars in false business expenses.

The Nevada indictment alleges that Mantra Films Inc. and its marketing arm, Sands Media Inc., claimed more than $20 million in false deductions on the companies’ 2002 and 2003 corporate income tax returns, the Department of Justice said.

The indictment also charges that Francis used offshore bank accounts and entities purportedly owned by others to conceal income he earned in those years.

Francis was ordered to appear May 22 before U.S. Magistrate Robert McQuaid in Reno. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

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