Oscar nominee Gary Busey allegedly sexually assaulted a female Apprentice employee during his time on the show, five Apprentice employees tell The Daily Beast. Donald Trump knew about the incident, laughed it off, and kept Busey on his TV series, these staffers said.
Multiple Apprentice employees, including the alleged victim herself, told The Daily Beast that the Academy Award-nominated actor “grabbed” one of their colleagues “firmly between [the] legs” during the 2011 season of Celebrity Apprentice. Busey also forcibly put the female staffer’s hand on the crotch of his pants. The alleged incident, which they say took place during a location shoot in SoHo in New York City, prompted a firestorm among members of the Apprentice crew.
Ten women have accused Trump of inappropriately touching them ever since the release of a 2005 video in which he boasted of grabbing women “by the pussy.” This alleged Apprentice incident shows that Trump was more than an accused groper—he allegedly condoned such ugly behavior in others, as well.
The Trump campaign and publicists for Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.
As described by five sources, the alleged incident occurred when celebrity contestants were tasked by Trump to sell art at a gallery. The cast and crew were taking a break outside the gallery before shooting began that day, the female employee allegedly assaulted by Busey said. And that’s when Busey grabbed her.
She, along with her Apprentice colleagues, spoke on the condition of anonymity due to restrictive non-disclosure agreements signed by those involved with the NBC series’s production. The alleged victim, who hadn’t before gone public with her claims, agreed with The Daily Beast to be quoted for this story.
“They had booze for the [gallery party], I think Lil Jon ordered it,” she said. “And so, a few of the celebrities wanted to do a shot together after we finished [setting up] for the show. We all took a shot together, and then went to stand together for B-roll time.
“We were smoking cigarettes outside, and Busey was standing next to me. And then at one point, he grabbed me firmly between my legs, and ran his hand up my stomach, and grabbed my breasts,” she continued. “I didn’t know what to do. So I made this joke that, ’Oh, I’ve never been sexually harassed by a celebrity before!’ Then he grabbed my hand and put it [over] his penis, and said, like, ‘I’m just getting started, baby.’”
She added, “Then my friend jumped in between [me and Busey] and put his hand on Busey’s chest.”
She was disturbed by the alleged incident, and her friends and colleagues on the series were furious. Some staffers asked for Busey to be kicked off the show, and the internal dissent grew loud enough that producers and management were all briefed on the incident. The news made it all the way up the chain of command, multiple sources told The Daily Beast, and made its way to Trump’s ear. The real-estate mogul ultimately gave Busey little more than a chuckle and a soft slap on the wrist. (Busey was allowed to remain on the show for the duration of the season—until he was “fired” and came in sixth place.)
The alleged victim said that she didn’t push the matter further because she feared for her livelihood.
“I didn’t think I’d get hired again by the company if I said something like that [and pursued further action],” she said.
She also said that Trump would say “gross things all the time” during The Apprentice, and that the atmosphere of Trump Tower was “a disgusting place to work” due to the high frequency of sexual harassment. When asked if the recent rash of sexual-assault and harassment allegations against the Republican presidential nominee surprised her, she simply said: “No. No they don’t.”
“[Trump] is and always has been a joke—I can’t believe anyone now is taking him seriously,” she continued. “He’s a monster.”
Her colleagues at the time confirmed her account of the alleged Busey incident.
“There was a moment where [Busey] basically grabbed her tits, and grabbed her hand [and] put it on his package there,” a staffer who witnessed the incident told The Daily Beast. “And a second friend, who was with her, had to push him away. And they were both like, ‘What the heck?’”
Staffers contend that neither Trump nor the senior Apprentice staff took anything resembling serious action in response to the alleged groping and unwanted advances.
“[Trump] didn’t want to pursue it too much,” the staffer said. “The production team knew. This was a big thing for a while [on the show]… My part of the crew wanted [Busey] kicked off the show.”
“He said something lewd to her and then started grabbing at her,” another staffer who was told of the incident at the time said. “Everyone was talking about it outside for a while. There was a lot of talk about it… The producers never made anything of it. I believe they should have.”
It’s a particularly galling turn of events, considering that Trump in 2010 axed female contestant Maria Kanellis from the show for what he called her inappropriate “locker-room talk.” (She described another contestant leaving a “stench” after using the restroom.) In the following season, when his pal Busey was accused of sexual assault, he refused to boot him off the show.
Four colleagues of Busey’s alleged assault victim said that producers informed Trump of the “gallery incident,” and that Trump asked Busey about it in The Apprentice boardroom as they were preparing to shoot that part of an episode.
“This was brought to Trump’s attention later, and there was something when he questioned Busey in the boardroom about it, and the resolution was Trump saying, ‘Keep your hands to yourself,’” a former staffer, who heard their conversation as it took place, said.
“Gary, did you do a bad thing… [and] got your hands where they’re not supposed to be,” the Apprentice staff member recalls Trump as saying, noting that the two of them were “yukking” it up as Trump was supposedly disciplining him. Another staffer recalled Trump calling Busey a “bad boy, a very bad boy.”
“Trump knew, he definitely knew,” another Apprentice staffer said. “I was in the control room when that happened.”
“On that show, everything gets run up the chain of command… it all goes to Trump,” another said. “The producers prep him on what’s coming up… [whether it’s] fights among the contestants, or different things. He knew everything going on. I do remember [Trump] discussing it with Gary Busey in the boardroom.”
“He did something pretty consistent with what Mr. Trump’s been doing,” one former Apprentice employee asserted of Busey’s actions. “The way management dealt with that was not at all.”
Meanwhile the expectation was that anybody behind the camera was to maintain a strict decorum.
“We were always taught to never really interact with the celebrities,” the staffer said. “We’re really encouraged not to interact with them, so him coming over to the female [employees]—it is crossing a line.”
According to longtime members and veterans of the Apprentice staff—The Daily Beast has contacted more than 50 over the course of our investigation—the climate on-set was such that women were often subjected to misogynistic and in some cases harassing remarks.
“There was definitely a lot of pervasive sexism,” one staffer claimed. “There were some real celebrities [who] were openly sexist and it was tolerated. It wasn’t uncommon for these young ladies in the talent department [who] would burst into tears because so and so told them to ‘sit on it.’”
This was documented in an Associated Press story in which many former staffers claimed that Trump made crude and misogynistic comments during the taping of his reality-TV series. Additionally, the 2011 season of The Apprentice was particularly marred with scandal.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, that was the season Trump repeatedly mocked deaf Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin as being mentally “retarded.” (A campaign spokesperson later said that was “untrue.”) Regarding that same year, Richard Hatch, another contestant on the show, claimed Trump made sexist remarks to Matlin and another contestant, Lisa Rinna. In a subsequent season, Trump also repeatedly called rapper and contestant Lil Jon an “Uncle Tom.”
For his part, Busey seems to have had some previous issues with women, including an incident in 1999 when he was investigated for domestic violence after his wife claimed that he “grabbed her shoulders and wrestled her to the ground.” He was freed after posting bail. Two years prior, a United Airlines flight attendant claimed that Busey hit her after she bumped into him. There were no subsequent criminal charges filed.
Busey struggled with substance abuse in the 1990s and appeared on a few reality-television shows prior to Celebrity Apprentice. In 2012, he endorsed Trump for president when the real-estate mogul first considered running.
Busey’s manager, Ron Sampson, denied the charge in a statement to The Daily Beast. “In response to your ludicrous inquiry, we will not bother and/or disrupt the life of a wonderful 72-year-old man who has enjoyed a flawless career for over 45 years, to entertain such ridiculous and false accusations,” he wrote. “Mr. Busey has better things to do with the rest of his life, like help raise his 6-year-old son, and enjoy his family on his free time.”
“It is our belief this is clearly an attempt to gain five minutes of fame for some wannabe, or perhaps a political attempt to drag Mr. Busey in the mud because he has been labeled a supporter of Donald Trump, which is false,” he continued. “Mr. Busey has never officially endorsed Donald Trump, has no interest in politics, and is extremely fed up with being associated as a Donald Trump supporter when he is not.”
"We are putting you on alert that if you print ANYTHING of the sort regarding an alleged anything, you are clearly opening yourself for a lawsuit," he concluded.
After the alleged sexual-assault incident, Busey would return for another season two years later. His alleged victim was still working on The Apprentice when he made his return.
—with additional reporting by M.L. Nestel