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Monday, September 10, 2012

Casino tycoon awarded $20 million in slander case against Girls Gone Wild founder


Casino tycoon Steve Wynn hit the jackpot in court Monday, getting $20 million in damages from a jury that found “Girls Gone Wild” creator Joe Francis concocted his wild tale that Wynn plotted to rub him out.

A jury of nine men and three women awarded the higher-than-expected figure in the slander case, which centered on Francis’ claim Wynn threatened to hit him “over the head with a shovel” and “bury (him) in the desert."

Francis earlier told jurors that music legend Quincy Jones, his neighbor and a mutual friend of Wynn's, relayed the threat to him while waving a stack of emails in his face in early 2010.

He said it scared him stiff because he believed Wynn was connected to New York’s feared Genovese crime family, and he was locked in a battle with the gambling mogul over a disputed $2 million debt from a Wynn property in 2007.

Wynn vehemently denied the claim, sued and asked for a minimum of $12 million last week, saying Francis' public accusation harmed his business interests in the ruthlessly competitive, highly regulated gaming industry.

Wynn’s lawyer smiled after the verdict and joked he’ll be upset if Wynn isn’t happy, too.

“Steve Wynn didn’t know who Joe Francis was, had never even met him and didn’t know he owed him $2 million until he started making these comments,” lawyer Barry Langberg said outside court. “Mr. Francis apparently thought that he could intimidate ... Steve Wynn into backing off collecting the legal debt.”

Francis said he expects the verdict to be overturned on appeal due to judicial error.
"I'm startled by the jury's verdict because it's totally unfounded and the evidence does not support it," Francis said in a phone interview.

He said the judge erred by allowing Wynn's attorneys to allow jurors to consider a new claim of slander based on an interview Francis did with "Good Morning America" after the trial started. The panel awarded Wynn $11 million in damages on that claim alone.

"You can't add a cause of action at the end of trial about something that had nothing to do with the trial," Francis said. "Therefore we are 100 percent confident this jury verdict will be reversed on appeal."

Langberg said Jones played a critical role when he told jurors he never received or relayed such a threat to Francis, his next-door neighbor.

“Quincy was very important. With him (testifying), it was pretty clear cut,” Langberg told the Daily News.

Jones, 79, said repeatedly on the stand that Wynn never relayed a murder threat to him.

Asked if he told Francis that Wynn was a "gangster" who "doesn't play," Jones laughed.

“That sounds like a line from ‘Scarface,’” he said. “No, absolutely not.”

The jurors are due back Tuesday for a second phase focused on possible punitive damages in excess of the $20 million compensatory figure.

Neither Wynn nor Francis were in court for the verdict.

Francis said last week that he stood by his story “100 percent” despite Jones’ testimony.

“I am telling the truth and have told the truth under penalty of perjury,” he said in a statement to The News. “My friendship with Quincy Jones will continue to be strong, and (I) am saddened that he was unable to tell the truth today because I believe he was pressured by Steve Wynn and his cronies to lie.”

He said he “strongly believed” his life was in danger when he first mentioned the alleged Wynn threat during a court proceeding involving a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
“Numerous people, including Quincy Jones, told me that Steve Wynn threatened to kill me,” he said, calling Wynn a “bully.”

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/steve-wynn-awarded-20-million-slander-case-girls-wild-founder-joe-francis-article-1.1156120#ixzz266fBHL4t


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