Ronan Farrow has written another New Yorker report about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual assaults, this time detailing the way the Weinsteins and their lawyers funneled large-sum settlements to accusers as a way to silence them. It’s another look into the Weinstein complex that also functions as a stand-in for the way cash protects powerful men from having to face consequences for bad behavior.
Farrow first takes up the case of Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, the Filipina-Italian model whose harrowing interaction with Weinstein was captured on tape during an investigation by the NYPD. Gutierrez provided the New Yorker copies of a non-disclosure agreement, signed by Weinstein, that offered her one million dollars never to speak publicly about the time he groped her in a Manhattan hotel. Gutierrez said she signed the agreement because she felt she had no other recourse, and what’s painfully clear is the stark power differential between her—then a 21-year-old model whose “English was very bad,” who supported her mother and brother, and who had grown up in an abusive household—and Weinstein’s high-profile attorneys.
She says she immediately regretted signing it: “The moment I did it, I really felt it was wrong.” In particular, Farrow details the systemic ways in which the Weinstein machine was able to use its considerable resources to effectively shut down, for decades, the allegations, and to further enable Weinstein to assault a seemingly unending series of women:
After Gutierrez contacted the police, Weinstein drew upon a network of high-powered defense lawyers, former law-enforcement officials, and private investigators who help the wealthy thwart criminal investigations. Unbeknownst to her, Weinstein’s attorneys hired the private intelligence firm K2, founded by the corporate-intelligence magnate Jules Kroll, and tasked its agents with insuring that the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, did not press charges against him. One of Weinstein’s lawyers, the defense attorney Elkan Abramowitz, whose clients include New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and who is a partner at the firm that employed Vance before he became the D.A., oversaw K2’s work. The intelligence firm hired Italian private investigators to dig up information on Gutierrez’s sexual history, according to three individuals with knowledge of its work. (A spokesperson for K2 said that the firm’s work on behalf of Weinstein in the Gutierrez case involved only online and public-records searches regarding her past.)
Current and former K2 employees, all of whom had previously worked at the District Attorney’s office, relayed the private investigator’s information about Gutierrez in calls to prosecutors. Two K2 employees said that those contacts were part of a “revolving door” culture between the D.A. and high-priced private-investigation firms. Lawyers working for Weinstein also presented a dossier of the private investigator’s findings to prosecutors in a face-to-face meeting. (Joan Vollero, a spokesperson for Vance’s office, said that such interactions with defense attorneys are standard procedure.)
(Vance, notoriously, declined to press charges.)
Further complicating things, reports the New Yorker, were the male attorneys advising women coming forward accusations. In another instance, Weinstein’s former assistant Zelda Perkins imparts the way she and another assistant resigned after Weinstein allegedly assaulted the second assistant in 1998 at the Venice Film Festival. They did not immediately report the sexual assault to the police because the second assistant was afraid—which led their lawyers to encourage them to accept a settlement. From The New Yorker:
Perkins and the assistant hired lawyers from the London-based firm Simons Muirhead & Burton. Perkins said that, in hindsight, the attorneys seemed intent on foreclosing any outcome except a settlement. The lawyers told the women that because neither had gone to the police immediately after the incident, reporting the attack at that time was “very clearly not an option.” Perkins said that she asked about reporting the incidents to Michael Eisner, the C.E.O. of Disney, which at the time owned Miramax, because she knew that Weinstein’s relationship with Eisner was under strain. The lawyers dissuaded her from that, too. “They just said, ‘No way. Disney will crush you. Miramax will crush you. They will drag you, your family, your friends, your pets through the mud and show that you are unreliable, insane. Whatever they need to do to silence you.’ ” Perkins said that she felt trapped. “I was, like, ‘Right. O.K. So, we can’t go to police because it’s too late. We can’t go to Disney ’cause they don’t give a shit. So who do we tell? Where’s the grown up? Where’s the law?’ ” (Razi Mireskandari, the managing partner at Simons Muirhead & Burton, declined to comment on the negotiations or the final settlement, saying that the terms of the agreement barred him from discussing it.)
Perkins initially pushed back on accepting what she called “blood money,” saying she wanted a donation made to a charity for rape victims. Her attorneys told her that the idea was a nonstarter. “I was a twenty-three- or twenty-four-year-old girl sitting in a room with often up to six men telling me I had no options,” she told me. (She did note that one of her own lawyers was a woman.) “That’s just downright wrong.”
The New Yorker report details how heretofore private systems work against accusers to protect the accused. The piece highlights the need for reform in the way NDAs are used to silence those who are sexually harassed, assaulted, abused. It’s infuriating as ever, but a relief to see it plainly in the light of day, and it kindles the small hope that this onslaught of reporting, something, somewhere, might actually change the situation. Read the full piece here.