RENO - A federal judge has approved a change of venue for 'Girls Gone Wild' founder Joe Francis' upcoming trial on tax evasion charges. Originally set for Aug. 26 in Reno, the trial will be held in Los Angeles on a later date.
U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval ruled on Friday that the change of venue was justified because Francis and most of the others expected to testify in the case reside in Southern California.
A federal grand jury indicted Francis and his companies Mantra Films and Sands Media in April 2007 on two counts of federal tax evasion.
The indictment states that Francis reported taxable income for 2002 of $13.9 million and paid $3.5 million in taxes, "when in truth and fact, he then and there knew well and believed that he had omitted additional income." For the following year, Francis paid $351,727 in taxes on reported taxable income of almost $1.16 million.
The government alleges that Francis and his companies claimed more than $20 million in false business expenses during 2003 and 2004, using offshore accounts to conceal income.
According to reports, prosecutors said that some of the testimony in the case involves a house in Punta Mita, Mexico which the government claims Mantra Films used as the basis for nearly $3 million in false construction and insurance expenses.
Francis' lawyers say that the house was not completed until 2005, and that it was used as a location for 'Girls Gone Wild' commercials and promotional videos.
Government lawyers opposed the change of venue, noting that Francis had "held himself out" to be a Nevada resident and that Sands Media was incorporated in Nevada. According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors maintain that a Sands Media bank account in Incline Village, Nev. was "a significant tool in [Francis'] tax evasion scheme."