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Joe Francis Cops a . . . Plea

After Joe Francis' lawyers from Munger, Tolles & Olson presented a plea deal worked out with federal tax prosecutors, Judge James Otero said he would consider the plea and pass sentence in November. Everyone had expected sentence to follow immediately, but Otero, whose arrival had been delayed by a nearby bomb scare, decided he would now delay the case's denouement. In the meantime, Francis would get his bail lifted and his passport returned. Otero looked at the Girls Gone Wild creator and admonished, "You understand you are to be on your best behavior?"

"Ha-ha!" exclaimed Francis, 36. "I'll try to stay out of night clubs!" Moments later an ecstatic Francis was slapping some Brooks Brothered backs and embracing family members. In the corridor outside of the Roybal Building courtroom, someone asked if he was going to Disneyland now.

"No," Francis said, "probably a corporate retreat in Mexico." Then he enumerated the immediate tasks at hand: "I'm hosting a bachelor party for Lamar Odom tomorrow night at Le Deux, then Sunday I've got a wedding -- whoa! I told the judge I wouldn't go to any night clubs. Take me back in for perjury!"

Francis had walked into Room 880 facing four years in prison and

$450,000 in fines for dodging taxes for a couple of years on an

unreported $562,883 in interest income -- and, on a lesser charge, of

trading "things of value" to jailers for unauthorized food and other

items during a stay in a Nevada jail. He left, provisionally, without

having to serve any time while paying out about $260,000 in fines and

IRS restition, while serving a year's probation.

He'd bounded into the courtroom like a naughty kid who was here to see the principal.

"Hey

-- !" he happily greeted one reporter whom he'd never met, and

throughout the session he'd preference answers with a jaunty "Ha-ha!"

or "Heh-heh!"

"Yes, I have good guys!" he told the judge at one point, throwing his arms around attorneys Brad Brian and David Houston.

Later,

Francis apologized to the few reporters waiting for him because his

lawyers wouldn't allow him to read a statement he had prepared. His

disappointment seemed genuine. Kind of.

"We must be patient with him," Francis' mother, Maria, told the L.A. Weekly, while Dad Ray stood nearby. "He's my only son and I love him very much. He's a naive young man."

"Naive"

isn't a word normally associated with Joe Francis, but after watching

his boyish enthusiasm at beating prison and the gosh-gee contrition he

showed Otero, one really sees how, like most children, Francis could be

his own worst enemy. Hardly a day goes by when he isn't being sued by

someone or getting into a night club fracas.

But

his jolly demeanor and candid admission about hosting the party for

L.A. Lakers' star Odom place Joe Francis in a category of his own, that

of the Innocent Hustler who can genuinely wonder on his Web page about why he is the target of obsessive judges -- while not understanding why people might be frowning at him.

Possibly, Judge Otero will consider these things over the next six

weeks as he reads the plea agreement -- perhaps with a brandy in hand,

perhaps even, with a Girls Gone Wild DVD playing on his TV.


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