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04.18.10

Steven Seagal Under Siege

Amid a lawsuit claiming the actor sexually harassed an assistant and kept sex slaves, veteran Seagal chronicler John Connolly on the Lawman star's long history of bad behavior.

Practically before the ink was dry on the court papers, Steven Seagal’s longtime attorney Martin Singer was verbally attacking a 23-year-old former model in the media. “The lawsuit filed by Kayden Nguyen against Steven Seagal is a ridiculous and absurd claim by a disgruntled ex-employee who was fired,” Singer claimed.

A former associate of Seagal, who asked not to be identified said, “It’s a typical Marty Singer reaction attack the victim.”  A day later, Singer sent Nguyen’s lawyer a threatening letter saying that because she had a signed a confidentially letter she could neither sue nor make public her allegations that Seagal treated her like a sex slave and had repeatedly fondled her against her wishes.

In a letter back to Singer, Nguyen's attorney, William Waldo, wrote the following: "I read the letter you emailed last night. Please tell Steven Seagal two things. First, the cheap shot threats that might have intimidated other victims and their lawyers don't faze me.  Save your ink." Second, Ms. Nguyen's claims are not going away. Five other victims called me yesterday."

For two decades, Seagal has exhibited a pattern of boorish behavior followed by an effective strategy of blaming the accuser.

Waldo has quietly put Seagal in a very difficult position with the claim.  A lawyer in California who is familiar with the case told The Daily Beast:  “What no one seems to paying attention to is that this is what is known as a verified complaint.  Meaning that it is filed under penalty of perjury if the facts in the case are false. It could not have been an oversight by Waldo.  Under California law, Seagal only has 30 days to answer the allegations paragraph by paragraph under oath. This is hardball lawyering.”  

To anyone who has followed Seagal’s career over the years, these allegations come as no surprise.  In 1993, I wrote a piece in Spy magazine addressing claims of sexual harassment by the action star. More than a score of former assistants and young actresses whom he insisted attend his late-night “private auditions,” complained of being abused.  Financial settlements  reached with some of these women were paid either by Warner Brothers, which produced most of his hit movies (and where he had an office) or by Seagal himself.

And in 1998, actress Jenny McCarthy claimed in a Movieline interview that Seagal had asked her to strip during an audition for Under Siege 2. "I go inside his [Seagal's] office, which has shag carpet and this huge couch, and he's by himself and says, 'Sit on my couch.'" McCarthy told Movieline , "[He says] 'So, you were Playmate of the Year?'

"Then he said: 'take off your dress,'" McCarthy continued. "I just started crying and said: 'Rent my Playboy video, you a*****e!' and ran out to the car."

This new lawsuit is particularly troublesome for Seagal, who has been attempting to resurrect his career with an A&E reality show, Lawman, about his work as a sheriff’s deputy in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. (Production on the show was halted while the recent claims are being investigated.) In the series, Seagal and two other cops patrol the streets of New Orleans dispensing justice and off-the-cuff advice to anyone who will listen. Although it has decent ratings, to real cops the show is not exactly law enforcement at its finest.  One former NYPD detective quipped, “Seagal couldn’t find a Jew in Tel Aviv, [let alone] capture real criminals.”

Leading up to Lawman, Seagal has had a series of flops, low-budget films including a few straight-to-video movies, and some very negative press having to do with his former partner/producer, Jules Nasso.  Eight years ago, Nasso and a group of New York-based mobsters were indicted on numerous federal RICO charges, among them allegations that they attempted to shake down Seagal.  Interestingly, some of the people involved in that prosecution had been associated with Seagal back in the day when he and Nasso were close. In fact, Nasso is the godfather of two of Seagal’s children and had been the best man at his marriage to actress Kelly LeBrock.  (The couple divorced in 1996.) To make his case go away, Nasso, who owns a multimillion dollar mansion on Staten Island and a successful pharmaceutical supply company, took a plea deal—he admitted to conspiring to extort Seagal—which required him to do a year in prison.

Nichols alleged Seagal once grabbed her blouse and said, “Let me get a look at those.” When she said no, he grabbed her breasts.

In the 1993 Spy profile of Seagal, I chronicled the relationship between the action star and Nasso.  Months earlier, while I was still researching the story in Los Angeles, I received a call from Marty Singer, who complained that I was defaming Seagal by telling people that Seagal was a drug addict and a murderer.  I told Singer that I had neither said any of those things, nor I had I ever heard anything like that about Seagal.

When I refused to stop working on the story, Singer filed a slander suit against me to prevent publication of the story. When the article was published, Singer added additional complaints to the lawsuit.

For almost two decades, threats, verbal attacks, and countersuits have been the hallmarks of how Singer has handled any slight against his well-paying client Seagal. While Seagal now demands confidentially agreements from new employees, The Daily Beast has discovered two recent sexual harassment cases from this decade.  One case alleging sexual and emotional abuse was settled by Seagal for an undisclosed sum.  A person close to the attorney representing the woman, who declined to be interviewed, said that the lawyer was terrified for his life by the players in that case.

Another lawsuit was filed in 2001 by a woman named Patricia Nichols, who worked for a recording company that was producing an album by Seagal.   Nichols claimed, among other things, that Seagal would tell her to come sit next to him and bring her chest.  In particular, Nichols alleged Seagal once grabbed her blouse and said, “Let me get a look at those.” When she said no, he grabbed her breasts.

Nichols sued Seagal for slander, claiming he had made false statements about her stealing money from the recording studio on his project.  He claimed that she had misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars. An outside auditor did not find any theft by the woman or anyone else.  And the jury found that Seagal had slandered Nichols but did not award any damages.

For two decades, Steven Seagal has exhibited a pattern of boorish behavior followed by an effective strategy of blaming the accuser. And while the smear campaign against Kayden Nguyen has already begun—she has been mocked for appearing on the Tyra Banks show in 2009 as a “lipstick lesbian,” and the requisite nude photos of her have surfaced— if indeed five other women have come forward, it is unlikely that the tough guy actor can bully her into going away. This time, the Lawman is feeling the heat.

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John Connolly is a former New York City detective turned journalist. He is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine, and is finishing a book called The Sin Eater on disgraced and imprisoned Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano.