Here's How Much Joe Francis Is Really Worth

The following article includes allegations of domestic abuse.

The man who turned the melodious timbre of marimbas into a pavlovian pants tightener for an entire generation is worth less than you'd think.

"Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis has always been ambitious. He started working as soon as he was legally able to and hasn't let up since. By the early 2000s, when footage of naked humans was a little more difficult to come by, Joe's soft-core TV-order videos of coeds were a hit, and his empire was worth as much as $100 million. The iPhone and adult websites may have punched a hole in Joe's business model, but the frantic energy it took to build his once-great mountain of money is still very evident. 

Francis is known for odd, shocking, and destructive behavior. This, combined with legal and financial missteps, has tanked his estimated (and probably overestimated, given his debts) $25 million fortune. Joe Francis has also retreated into quasi–exile in Mexico, where some believe he's been hiding from his creditors. But as they say, wherever you go, there you are, and as we'll see, Francis has hardly outrun his many money troubles.

Joe Francis' humble video store origins

Two of America's most famous filmmakers came out of California's video rental workforce. First, of course, was Quentin Tarantino, who took his love of cinema (and women's feet) all the way from a hip rental shop in Manhattan Beach to becoming arguably the most stylish filmmaker of his generation. Then there's Joe Francis, who filmed a lot of college girls twerking.

Joe was always interested in movies, but mostly, he wanted to make money. His first job was at an ice cream shop, according to his website. "I've always loved work," Francis says. "I was thrilled to be making my own money. I'd watched my dad worry about money and I was determined not to have my own life defined by constant financial insecurity." While in high school, Francis worked at a video store and found he had a knack for sales. He moved rental memberships by "helping people buy something that I know they are going to enjoy," he wrote. 

After high school, Francis studied both business and film at the University of Southern California. He would put those skills to good use after graduation in 1995 by working in production at a reality TV company. That's when he noticed compilation tapes of sensational footage considered too intense for broadcast, but very popular among staff. Francis began marketing his first video series of this graphic material on VHS tapes called "Banned From Television."

He was forced to make a blackmail tape

In 2004, Joe Francis came home from a night of partying when a man named Darnell Riley broke into his Bel-Air mansion and held him at gunpoint. Riley flipped on a camera and ordered the "Girls Gone Wild" mogul to strip down and play out a scene imitating the young women that had made Joe rich.

Riley forced Francis to make "sexually humiliating comments about himself," recapped the Los Angeles Times. Francis was "scared to death." Riley then ransacked Joe's home, taking whatever he could, "like he was on a shopping spree." He continued forcing Francis' actions. Still filming, Riley declared, "I'm going to put this on the Internet and make money." Riley pressed the gun to Joe's head and demanded $100,000 cash. Joe had only his watch, cell phone, and $1,100.

After the assault, Riley's blackmail demands escalated to as much as $500,000. In a fitting twist, authorities learned of the crime via Paris Hilton, Francis' ex. Jurors later saw portions of the video as Francis sat in court "wringing his hands in apparent discomfort" (via the Los Angeles Times). Riley was sentenced to almost 11 years for the crime. He later wrote a book about the extortion attempt, telling Page Six he had no beef with Francis but was put up to the plot by notorious Genovese crime boss Matty "The Horse" Ianniello.

Joe Francis' Mexico mansion catches fire

Joe Francis' most enduring sign of riches was his Casa Aramara resort in Punta Mita, Mexico. Rooms at this "ultra-luxury 5-star private estate" run anywhere from $12,000 to $45,000 a night (depending on the season), per the resort's website. The experience is crafted "exclusively for those special guests with the most discriminating taste who expect nothing but the BEST food, service, location, activities, and accommodation."

Aramara is a short flight from Los Angeles, and stars including Ashton Kutcher, Selena Gomez, the Kardashians, and Eva Longoria have visited, according to The Sun. The formerly inseparable Kim Kardashian and Kanye West spent their honeymoon at Casa Aramara in 2014, and Mario Lopez even took his vows on the property in 2012 — no word on whether Lopez was also making movie recommendations on a loop in the rooms.

The sprawling 40,000-square-foot mansion was remodeled in 2019 and featured 12 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms. Shockingly, in 2021, the resort basically burned to the ground, according to TMZ, who obtained images of the conflagration. Francis was not in town, but 20 staff members were reportedly there, along with 20 guests who had to be put up in another hotel. Francis took to Instagram and accused his neighbors of blocking firefighters' access to the blaze for three hours. He claimed "the whole incident ... could've been avoided or minimalized dramatically," and that the homeowners around him wanted to let his mansion "burn as much as possible."

Joe Francis fights $10 million lawsuit

In 2008, Joe Francis got tangentially embroiled in a sex scandal that took down the governor of New York. Democrat Elliot Spitzer resigned after The New York Times revealed the politician (famously referred to as "Client 9") was "caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel." Spitzer was married with children, and the story took down his career.

The sex worker he was meeting was later identified as Ashley Dupré. She became something of a celebrity, getting a sex column with the New York Post, and was even featured on the cover of Playboy. Joe Francis was interested, too, and offered her $1 million to pose for "Girls Gone Wild." He withdrew the offer, however, when he discovered "GGW" already had footage of Dupré from 2003, says Forbes. That's when Dupré hit "GGW" with a $10 million lawsuit claiming she was only 17 at the time, according to People. Francis quickly released footage from the shoot which shows an ID, proving the girl in the video was 18. Dupré dropped the suit.

However, in a fittingly wild twist, it turns out the video wasn't of Dupré. It was of a woman named Amber Arpaio. Arpaio then filed her own suit against "GGW" for circulating these images and was awarded $3 million, per Forbes. It's unclear how everyone believed this video was of Dupré, including Dupré, even though Arpaio's ID is visible.

His $5 million child support order

Nothing drains the wealth of elite earners like legal battles with exes. Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates both went through high-profile splits that cost them billions. But at a certain level of wealth, there's not actually any material difference in your life after losing half your fortune. For Joe Francis, however, his relationship troubles represent a significant chunk of change.

In 2017, Francis' ex-girlfriend Abbey Wilson alleged in court documents, via The Sun, that Francis had "started using drugs, including methamphetamines, cocaine, and painkillers." The couple has twins together, and Wilson said Francis' drug use made him violent toward her; she secured a temporary restraining order for herself and the children against him. Joe Francis insisted to Page Six, "My ex-girlfriend just keeps making up things and lying and lying and lying. I have to defend myself and publicly separate myself with her now."

He claimed on Instagram that Wilson "stole $250,000 USD." He accused her of "holding my daughters hostage and trying to get money out of me. It is plain and simple. She's extorting me for money and dribbling these lies about me in the process." Francis has a history of domestic violence in two other incidents. In this case, Wilson was his common-law wife by Mexican law, given the length of their relationship. The court ordered Francis to sell Casa Aramara and pay her $5 million of the proceeds in child support, per The Sun.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Joe Francis' ruinous battle with Steve Wynn

Joe Francis might not be a guy who knows when to fold 'em, given that he turned one wild night at a blackjack table into perhaps the most ruinous and strange legal feud of all time.

In 2007, Francis was at one of Steve Wynn's Las Vegas casinos and racked up a $2 million debt. Francis refused to pay the tab and accused Wynn's associates of "plying him with prostitutes and using other deceptive practices to keep him betting," writes the Los Angeles Times. Court ruled in favor of Wynn and ordered Francis to pay the casino magnate millions. Francis refused, and worse, told the judge during a 2010 hearing, "Mr. Wynn has threatened to kill me" (via TMZ). "He said he would hit me in the back of the head with a shovel and bury me in the desert."

Already in the hole financially, Steve Wynn sued Joe Francis for those comments, too, and a 2012 jury found in favor of Wynn, awarding him $40 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Wynn slammed Francis, calling him a "digital assassin" who takes advantage of the internet to levy false accusations that will live online forever. An appellate court later upheld the ruling but reduced the fee to $19 million, according to the Las Vegas Sun. Francis still refused to pay — possibly not having that much cash on hand. That's when Steve went after Joe's house.

He lost his L.A. mansion, too

In 2002, Joe Francis purchased a very tony Bel-Air bachelor pad for nearly $5.5. Million. The estate sits in the same cul-de-sac as that of legendary music producer Quincy Jones. The 6,446-square-foot mansion, built in 1995, has 5 ensuite bedrooms and 7 bathrooms, per Dirt.

When Francis refused to pay Steve Wynn the nearly $20 million he owed him after losing a defamation suit to the casino magnate, Wynn began attempting to seize assets from the "Girls Gone Wild" founder, including his home.

The problem for Wynn was, Francis' home was already "in and out of foreclosure," according to Dirt. Francis also began rearranging his assets to hide from Wynn and transferred the property through a series of shell companies. But all this maneuvering was for naught. By 2019, U.S. Marshals decreed the house belonged to Wynn. At the time of the transfer, the property value was freshly appraised at $6.7 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth

Interestingly, "the U.S. government exercised its right of redemption and bought out [Wynn's] interest in the property," Dirt reported. The feds then flipped the nearly one-acre estate to a Kuwaiti billionaire and made a nearly $2 million profit. Everybody won on this deal, including taxpayers, except, of course, Francis, who still owed Wynn millions, and whose outrageous claims in court cost him all his home's equity.

Girls Gone Wild goes bankrupt

Not only did Joe Francis' protracted legal battle with Steve Wynn cost him his home, but it also turned his business empire to ruin. In the wake of the nearly $20 million fine levied against Francis in 2012, "Girls Gone Wild" filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013. 

Despite Joe's woes, "GGW" claimed everything was just fine. "Girls Gone Wild remains strong as a company and strong financially," a spokesperson told The Huffington Post. "The only reason Girls Gone Wild has elected to file for this reorganization is to re-structure its frivolous and burdensome legal affairs. This Chapter 11 filing will not affect any of Girls Gone Wild's domestic or international operations. Just like American Airlines and General Motors, it will be business as usual for Girls Gone Wild."

Yes, Joe Francis' defunct business, built on mail-order videos of exploitative soft-core pornography, compared itself to GM and American Airlines. But this was allegedly all Joe's move to stop Steve Wynn from collecting the outstanding debt. Wynn's attorneys blasted the "GGW" founder (via Newsmax): "Francis has effectively evaded meaningful collection by making it appear that he has virtually no income or assets, despite his publicly lavish lifestyle." If you're keeping score, what started as a $2 million gambling beef cost Francis his Bel-Air mansion (worth more than three times that initial loss) and his business, once valued at $100 million (according to the New York Post).

Joe Francis lost his luxury cars

The walls were closing in on Joe Francis even tighter by 2015. Following his company's bankruptcy filing in 2013, Francis still allegedly failed to turn over his luxury cars, notes CNN Business. This led a federal judge in California to issue an arrest warrant for the harried "Girls Gone Wild" founder.

Francis had been ordered to give up two very high-end vehicles: a Bentley Flying Spur, worth nearly $200,000 new, and a slightly more pedestrian, though no less comfortable, Cadillac Escalade, newer versions costing around $85,000.

In yet another indignity, Joe's bankruptcy lawyer Michael Kolodz clarified that Francis actually couldn't turn over the cars. Francis' lawyer explained that a creditor in Mexico had seized the cars already after being angered that a "Girls Gone Wild" promotion never arrived at local strip clubs. Francis, however, was not arrested for failure to turn over his cars. He told CNN he wasn't concerned about doing a perp walk because the case wasn't criminal; it was civil, and Mexico likely wouldn't extradite him over a financial dispute.

His lucrative Kardashian connection

Nothing has kept Joe Francis afloat like his celebrity connections, considering that his home video revenue dried up when that technology became obsolete. Francis has seemingly maintained his lifestyle by capitalizing on high-profile celeb friendships.

After news broke that Francis was arrested for allegedly abusing a woman and spitting on her to give her COVID, Kim Kardashian came to his aid in a way only she can. The reality star posted a bikini-clad photo of herself from Francis' Mexican estate, captioned (via The Sun), "Tennis anyone?!" The property was not tagged, and it's not clear when the photo was taken, but it allowed Casa Aramara's Instagram to re-post the endorsement after the estate burned. Kim normally charges up to $1 million for such posts, according to TMZ.

Kim's sister, Kylie Jenner, also famously celebrated her 18th birthday at the property, Instagram post included (via The Sun). But in 2021, Francis did a bit of kiss and tell that could jeopardize all that (possibly) free advertising. He claimed on an episode of "Juicy Scoop with Heather McDonald" (via Page Six) that he hooked up with Kourtney Kardashian on the same 2004 trip where the star met the father of her kids, Scott Disick. Joe said he regretted not pursuing Kourtney seriously, referenced his costly legal battle with ex Abbey Wilson, and said that he'd be in a better situation with the reality TV star.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Joe Francis is dubbed a tax cheat

One might be surprised if Joe Francis wasn't able to also get himself into some kind of tax trouble, too.

In 2015, Francis made that vaunted Forbes list. No, not their richest list. Everyone in that column could accidentally leave Joe's entire bankroll in their pants when doing a load of laundry and be more upset about all the lint in their pocket than the mashed-up millions. That's a billionaires club only, and Francis is nowhere near that rich. Instead, Joe was added to the magazine's slightly less prestigious list of "10 Notorious Tax Cheats," and he allegedly earned his spot fair and square, so to speak.

In 2007, Francis got slapped with an indictment on two counts of tax evasion. He allegedly took a whopping $20 million in fraudulent deductions. Francis tried to blame the entire thing on his accountant (recounts Forbes), whom he later accused of embezzling money from the company via a long statement on the matter on his website. The accountant turned into an IRS whistleblower, even worse news for Francis. But if you're familiar with these cases, you might just know how this ends. Francis wrangled in court and plead guilty to two far lesser misdemeanor charges: bribery and filing a false return. In the end, the whole thing only cost Joe $250,000 in restitution to the federal government.

Joe Francis' charity

Joe Francis, according to Joe Francis, does a lot of charity work. As his website explains, even though he's loath to tell you about it, well, you ought to know. Francis reflects on this conflict: "My advisors have told me that I've made a mistake by not publicizing my philanthropic efforts. My motivation for helping people is not for publicity," he explained via PR statement.

His advisors might also mention charity can be a good business move. Charitable giving is a write-off and allows the wealthy to direct their riches to the causes of their choice — rather than to the fungible blob of a federal budget. It also makes you feel good, as Francis notes. "I find that giving of myself and my time personally is more rewarding ... I help people because I care."

The specifics of Francis' philanthropic efforts are not well-publicized; he's correct on that. Francis published an open letter from a Cuban immigrant named Eyder Ruch. She explains how Joe helped her family establish themselves in the U.S. when they hit a snag with their visa application. She writes, via Joe's site, "Joe Francis acted with infinite humanity toward my family." Beyond that, Francis lists six charities he likes but includes details of financial support for just one, a Hurricane Katrina relief fund. "Francis has donated 100 percent of the gross sales, not profit, from the sale of Mardi Gras-themed DVDs and videos to the Red Cross to help Katrina victims since the disaster."