RENO, Nev. - Federal prosecutors brought trumped up charges against a Hollywood associate of "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis, two ex-sheriff's deputies and a jail worker to pressure them to implicate Francis in an alleged bribery scandal, a lawyer said.
Attorney David Houston said Francis, his client, was targeted by the FBI after Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley told federal agents that his internal probe turned up allegations of misconduct at the end of 2007.
Francis was awaiting trial for nearly a year on U.S. tax evasion charges in Reno in 2007.
Prosecutors accuse Francis associate Aaron Weinstein, a video and marketing executive, of bribing the law enforcement officials, including former deputy Michon Mills, with money and gifts that included a Cartier watch and Oakland Raiders tickets in exchange for preferential treatment for Francis.
"The indictment of both Alan Weinstein and Michon Mills, in my opinion, is simply based on the government's attempts to pressure people into making false statements to possibly implicate Mr. Francis in something he has not done and neither have any of the people charged," Houston told The Associated Press.
Greg Brower, U.S. attorney for Nevada, said Sunday "we're going to let the facts come to light as the case moves through the system."
Haley referred all inquiries to the FBI and U.S. attorney. He said his department began an internal investigation in November 2007.
Francis has not been charged in the scheme disclosed Friday in a grand jury indictment of Weinstein and the 39-year-old Mills of Carson City.
Francis first drew the legal wrath of authorities in Panama City, Fla., in 2003 when he filmed underage girls baring their breasts and in other sexually provocative poses during spring break. He's awaiting trial on the tax charges in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Weinstein, 45, of Woodland Hills, Calif., is listed as an executive producer on some of the soft porn mogul's projects. He's charged with three counts of trying to bribe a public official. Mills and two others are accused of accepting bribes. One ex-deputy has pleaded guilty to the charge.
The indictment accuses Weinstein of giving Mills the watch valued at $4,500 and a $5,000 Saks Fifth Avenue department store gift card. It said that in return, she helped provide special benefits for Francis, including making sure he had "almost unrestrained access to telephones."
Houston said Mills did not receive a gift card. He said Weinstein gave Mills the watch during a November 2007 dinner in Reno at a time Mills no longer was overseeing Francis at the jail.
It was presented as a Christmas gift - "in a plastic box in a 7-Eleven bag" - which she opened ahead of time and returned to Weinstein when she learned its value, Houston said.
"She did not feel that she and Alan Weinstein enjoyed the kind of relationship where the watch would be an appropriate gift," he said.
Houston is not representing Weinstein or Mills but said he had consulted with them about the allegations. He said they have not yet obtained legal counsel.
Because of his notoriety, Francis was housed mostly in a "special needs unit" where mental health subjects and others are segregated from the general inmate population, Houston said.
"There are no restrictions on use of the phone for any of those inmates," he said. "Anything and everything that happened with Joe Francis in that jail was checked up and down the chain of command by everyone in control, from captains to ... the sheriff."