LOS ANGELES (AP) — Porn producer Joe Francis should be forced to pay Steve Wynn more than $12 million for claiming that the casino mogul threatened to kill him and bury him in the desert, Wynn’s attorney told a jury Friday.
Barry Langberg suggested the multimillion verdict during closing arguments in Wynn’s slander case against Francis, who claims the casino creator threatened to hit him over the head with a shovel and have him buried in the desert over a $2 million gambling debt.
Francis claims record producer Quincy Jones showed him a stack of emails purportedly containing the threats, none of which he read or were ever found as evidence.
Wynn has denied Francis’ allegations and told jurors they have hurt his reputation and could lead to an expensive investigation by Nevada gambling authorities. Jurors, who will resume deliberations Monday morning, will ultimately decide whether to award Wynn any money and the amount.
Wynn’s attorney, Barry Langberg, accused Francis of lying about the threats, pointing out that there was no evidence of any email Wynn had sent and multiple witnesses corroborating the casino mogul’s story. He argued Francis was malicious because he repeated the threats last week in an interview on “Good Morning America.”
Francis had previously said at a court hearing that Wynn threatened him over a $2 million gambling debt Francis incurred at Wynn’s hotel. Celebrity news website TMZ reported on the hearing, and Francis confirmed his allegations to a reporter from the site afterward.
“He committed character assassination,” Langberg said. “He did it for a simple reason — he didn’t want to pay his debt.”
He argued Francis should be forced to pay punitive damages as well. Wynn said he planned to donate any amount he won during the trial, minus attorney’s fees, to charities.
Francis’ attorney, Aaron Aftergood, contended that both men may be telling the truth and the porn producer may have been misled by Jones. Francis claims he heard about the threats from the Grammy-winner, who is his neighbor, but Jones denies hearing Wynn utter any threats.
Aftergood argued that the dispute was more about the “bruised ego of Mr. Wynn in the schoolyard, sandlot dustup” that erupted between the two men. He also contends Wynn, the CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd. and designer of major Las Vegas resorts such Bellagio, Wynn and Encore, hasn’t shown he has suffered any damages.
Langberg said Francis erred by challenging Wynn, a billionaire who had the resources to fight the case. But he also argued that Wynn had suffered significant damage to his reputation and Francis’ allegations could pose trouble for Wynn’s casinos.
“At least with the newspaper after a few days, it’s gone. They wrap fish in it, they throw it away,” Langberg said. “But not anymore. Today, the methods by which Joe Francis used to commit assassination are digital. It’s never gone. It’s never thrown away. They never wrap fish in it.”
He urged jurors to return a verdict against Francis that was so large it would dwarf the Google hits of the porn producer’s accusations and land at the top of search results.
“You have to create a headline as big as his,” he said. “You have to send a message that will stay on the Internet as long as his lie will.”
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