National News

Lawsuit Against Weinstein Might Open Door to Criminal Charges

Posted May 2, 2018 7:05 p.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2018 7:11 p.m. EDT

A former employee of Harvey Weinstein accused him in a lawsuit on Tuesday of sexually and physically assaulting her for years and threatening to ruin her career if she denied his sexual advances or told anyone about them.

In the lawsuit, the former employee, Alexandra Canosa, a producer on the Netflix show “Marco Polo,” said Weinstein repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped her between 2010 and 2014, often in hotel rooms in New York and Los Angeles. She said he continued to threaten her to stay silent until September, a few weeks before The New York Times and The New Yorker published stories about years of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Weinstein.

Three of the incidents took place at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in Manhattan in 2010 and 2012, making them of interest to prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office who have been investigating other sexual assault allegations against Weinstein.

Some of the complaints against Weinstein reported to New York authorities happened too long ago to be prosecuted, law enforcement officials have said, but the incidents mentioned in Canosa’s lawsuit might qualify as more serious sex crimes that have no statutes of limitation, because she contends he physically forced her to comply with his demands.

The district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., declined to say on Wednesday if his office had interviewed Canosa. A lawyer for Canosa, Jeremy Hellman, also would not say if Manhattan prosecutors had talked to his client.

The lawsuit was the second filed against Weinstein this week, after Ashley Judd sued him on Monday over claims that he harmed her career after she rejected his sexual requests.

Canosa said in her lawsuit that Weinstein insisted on meeting her in “isolated environments for business purposes,” including in hotel rooms in Hungary and Malaysia. Weinstein “threatened plaintiff if she would not give him what he wanted,” and forced himself on her “despite repeated requests to stop,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan. The lawsuit gave few details of these encounters.

Canosa has worked for Weinstein or for his media companies since 2010, the lawsuit said, and was an associate producer on “Marco Polo,” a historical drama that ran for two seasons, which listed Weinstein as an executive producer.

Phyllis Kupferstein, a lawyer for Weinstein based in Los Angeles, said Canosa and worked on and off for The Weinstein Co. for a decade, doing special projects and holding influential roles, but was not a full-time executive.

“From someone who has been thought of as a good friend, involved only in a consensual relationship, these claims are not only mystifying to Mr. Weinstein, but deeply upsetting, and they cannot be supported by the facts,” Kupferstein said.

The latest legal front against Weinstein came on the same day that the New York attorney general’s office announced it would appoint a special deputy to lead an investigation into Vance’s handling of a 2015 sexual assault allegation against Weinstein that was not prosecuted.

Acting on a request from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the office of the attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, said it would name the special deputy in the coming days to review the interactions between the New York Police Department and Vance during the case. Vance had declined to press charges against Weinstein, despite what the police said was evidence of a misdemeanor sexual assault against Ambra Battilana, a 22-year-old model from Italy.

Vance’s office spent two weeks investigating the alleged assault but determined it could not prove that a crime had been committed, even with an audio recording Battilana had made of their interaction, the district attorney later said. Prosecutors believed it would be hard to prove Weinstein touched Battilana for sexual reasons.

Behind the scenes, though, Weinstein dispatched a team of defense lawyers and publicists to undermine Battilana’s credibility, a tactic employed by Weinstein for decades to silence allegations and threaten accusers.

Cuomo said in March that there would be an investigation into the handling of the case, after Time’s Up, the star-powered organization dedicated to fighting sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond, asked him in a letter to review Vance’s decision. The governor officially requested the review in a letter to Schneiderman last week.

The broadly worded letter directed the attorney general to examine “the actions of, and interactions between” the district attorney’s office and the police on all sexual assault complaints, including the 2015 case. It did not specifically request an investigation of possible misconduct by Vance’s office.

“We are committed to pursuing a comprehensive, fair and independent investigation,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said Tuesday.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office is investigating at least two other assault allegations against Weinstein, including that he twice raped actress Paz de la Huerta in 2010. In Cuomo’s request to Schneiderman, he asked that the review of Battilana’s case not interfere with those open investigations.

Vance’s assistants have also expanded the Weinstein inquiry to include possible financial crimes involving Weinstein’s former production company, subpoenaing a wide range of records to determine if he misused company funds or resources. Among other things, investigators are looking at payments made to buy the silence of women who made complaints about Weinstein, two people familiar with the investigation said.

Weinstein’s criminal lawyer in New York, Benjamin Brafman, has said the sexual encounters the district attorney’s office has been scrutinizing were consensual, and he has denied Weinstein committed any financial wrongdoing, asserting that he had reimbursed his former company for all personal expenditures.