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Steve Wynn-Joe Francis death threat trial nears end

The courtroom feud between Steve Wynn and Joe Francis heads into its final stages Friday as closing arguments are expected to get underway.

The Las Vegas casino mogul and the "Girls Gone Wild" impresario have been publicly warring since 2008 and are providing a crash course this week in how rich men settle scores. Their feud began as many do: with one man, Wynn, claiming the other, Francis, owed him money.

It escalated to name-calling. Then incendiary accusations involving prostitution and death threats. So Wynn and Francis did what men of their pocketbook size often do: They called their attorneys.

This week, they faced off in a Los Angeles courtroom in a made-for-TMZ defamation case whose star witness was Grammy-winning producer Quincy Jones. It is one of four lawsuits Wynn and Francis have filed against each other in recent years, each one offering the foes another high-profile opportunity to hurl insults. (For those counting, Wynn is 2-0 in civil judgments. Francis owes him at least $9.5 million.)

The case being heard this week began in 2010, when Francis said Wynn wanted to "hit me in the back of the head with a shovel and bury me in the desert" — the sort of "terrible lie," Wynn testified this week, that could impugn his reputation and that of his eponymous gambling empire.

"He's unrepentant, vicious, out-of-control," Wynn seethed. He added that Jones — Wynn's friend and Francis' neighbor — didn't think highly of Francis, either: "He refers to Joe Francis as a screwball, a maniac, as worse than a villain."

But did Wynn ever confide in Jones that he wanted Francis, 39, dead? Francis' team suggested Wynn was capable of it, particularly considering the men's fraught history.

At some point, Francis testified this week, Jones told him that Wynn said via email that he wanted Francis dead. In deposition testimony read in court, Francis said Jones warned him about Wynn: "He's gangster. He's old Vegas. He doesn't play."

Wynn denied threatening to kill Francis. He also denied using email — ever.

So the courtroom was packed Thursday for the arrival of Jones, who could perhaps end one battle in the Wynn-Francis war.

Jones said he'd tried to broker peace between Francis and Wynn by urging Francis to wipe out his debt. "If you lose the money, you pay the money," Jones said he told Francis. Instead, Jones ended up in court, undercutting Francis' case.

Jones said — repeatedly — that Wynn never threatened to kill the porn purveyor, and that Jones had never told Francis that Wynn had. Jones also said he was curious to see the death-threat messages Francis swore existed.

As for Francis' contention that Jones warned him that Wynn was a "gangster"?

"That sounds like a line from 'Scarface,'" Jones said, and several jurors smiled.

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-- Ashley Powers

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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