- Wednesday, Sep. 2, 2009
A lawsuit filed yesterday in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges a complicated scheme by former employees to embezzle millions of dollars from Mantra Films, the Joe Francis-owned company that produces the Girls Gone Wild videos. The lawsuit presents compelling evidence uncovered by investigators that the tax indictment against Francis rose entirely out of efforts by a former accountant hoping to cover his theft of millions from Francis' companies.
Michael Barrett was Chief Financial Officer and CPA for Mantra Films. Barrett handled finances for Mantra Films, Francis and his companies from 2002 to 2004, the years Barrett claims Francis made false deductions on his tax returns. After leaving the company, Barrett made accusations of fraud against Francis to the IRS in an attempt to collect a large reward.
Francis has long held that Barrett himself (a longtime CPA) was responsible for any possible irregularities in Francis' tax returns, but now the real reason for Barrett's attempts to get Francis in trouble are made clear in documents uncovered by investigators. According to Mantra Films' lawsuit, Barrett and two other company employees, Roman Pelikh, Chief Technology Officer and Will L'Heureux, the company's VP of Operations, conspired and formed a series of companies through which they could bilk Francis out of millions of dollars..
According to the lawsuit, using shadow companies doing business as WMR Marketing, named after the first letters of the perpetrator's names (W)illiam, (M)ichael and (R)oman, CPI Telecom, Western PC Professionals and Office Trade Center, the three went wild, filing and then approving phony invoices they wrote themselves. Additionally, the lawsuit charges that at least one of the three, Roman Pelikh, filed hundreds of thousands of dollars in false expense reports, for which he reimbursed himself through the company payroll.
Mantra Films has filed a report with the Santa Monica Police Department. So far, no arrests have made. In addition, Mantra Films has filed suit against the three conspirators, seeking millions in damages.
Mantra Films' lawyer David Schack of K&L Gates says, "We believe there is substantial evidence to support allegations of embezzlement in the complaint and Mantra Films intends to prosecute this suit vigorously. Mantra will also cooperate with any investigation launched by the Santa Monica Police Department in this matter."
The full contents of the Mantra Films lawsuit can be viewed at mantraent.com/lawsuit