THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT
Years Before Harvey Weinstein Surrendered, Prosecutors Did ‘Opposition Research’ on His First Accuser
Ambra Battilana Gutierrez stepped up and was let down by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. A detective who worked the case reveals why.
As word spread that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is finally bringing sexual assault charges against Harvey Weinstein, a statement of perfect grace came from an earlier victim whose own case had been dropped by the same prosecutors despite a recorded confession.
“I’m really happy to see that this story is getting the right development,” Ambra Battilana Gutierrez texted The Daily Beast. “I hope the victims can feel free and proud to have spoken so that something like this will never happen again.”
Her first thoughts were of other victims and of other women who might have otherwise become victims, not of herself and the disgraceful way the district attorney’s office treated her in 2015. Words that describe her impulse include class and decency. She affirmed the high opinion of the cops who had found her completely believable from the moment she walked into a Manhattan stationhouse, visibly distraught as she reported being assaulted by Weinstein.
In seeking to explain why it did not pursue the case, the Manhattan district attorney’s office later said that the detectives failed to notify it before they enlisted Battilana to help record Weinstein making what amounted to a confession. Detectives say that they did in fact consult with a senior prosecutor and that they were told to go ahead. Nobody can rightly deny the damming nature of the recording.
“Everything was so credible,” a retired detective who worked the case told The Daily Beast.
What is also clear is that the prosecutors put considerably less effort into investigating Weinstein than they did Battilana.
“They did a lot of opposition research on her,” the retired detective said. “They spent more time investigating the victim than they did the suspect.”
The district attorney learned that Battilana had figured in the prosecution of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, testifying that she had witnessed one of his “bunga bunga” sex parties when she was 19. She was also said to have accused a boyfriend of having forced her into sex when she was just 17.
“She can’t be a victim again?” the retired detective asked.
Had the prosecutors put equal effort into investigating Weinstein, they might have learned some of what Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker and other reporters subsequently discovered.
The revelation of numerous other sexual assault allegations against Weinstein prompted the district attorney’s office to offer a belated explanation why it had failed to act on Battilana’s allegation.
“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct that occurred in 2015, we would have,” the statement began. “Mr. Weinstein’s pattern of mistreating women, as recounted in recent reports, is disgraceful and shocks the conscience.”
Never mind that the office could, in fact, have prosecuted him. Never mind that Weinstein’s pattern of behavior might have come to light had prosecutors researched the accused as they did the accuser.
The statement, which was itself disgraceful, continued, “After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD without our knowledge or input—arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein. The seasoned prosecutors in our Sex Crimes Unit were not afforded the opportunity before the meeting to counsel investigators on what was necessary to capture in order to prove a misdemeanor sex crime.”
If you believe the detectives, that is simply not true. The statement went on:
“While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent.”
The actual insufficiency was gumption on the part of the prosecutor. The statement added:
“Subsequent investigative steps undertaken in order to establish intent were not successful. This, coupled with other proof issues, meant that there was no choice but to conclude the investigation without criminal charges.”
The unspecified “proof issues” apparently include what the prosecutors learned—or perhaps had been fed by Weinstein’s lawyers—about Battilana when they should have been taking a deeper look at Weinstein. The prosecutors were said to have decided there had been “inconsistencies” in Battilana’s testimony regarding the “bunga bunga” party in Italy. That did not change the recording in New York. The Weinstein case remained considerably stronger than many the district attorney routinely brought against subway gropers. The determining difference was that Weinstein was a big shot.
In the aftermath of the press revelations about Weinstein, the NYPD investigated at least five separate sexual assault allegations against him. One involves the actress Paz de la Huerta, who told Vanity Fair that Weinstein threw her down on a bed and raped her in 2010. Detectives find her believable, but they suggest an even stronger case involves a woman named Lucia Evans, who described her encounter with Weinstein to The New Yorker.
As Farrow reported, Evans was a college student interested in an acting career when she arrived at Weinstein’s office for what she expected would be a daytime meeting about her acting career. Weinstein allegedly forced her to perform oral sex. She recalled, “I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t.’ He’s a big guy. He overpowered me.”
Evans repeated her account to detectives, who found her completely credible. But, as has been reported in The Daily Beast, she is said to have been reluctant to go to the district attorney’s office because of the way Battilana’s case had been handled.
Evans eventually agreed to meet with the DA’s office after the detectives offered to accompany her and remain while she was interviewed. She appears to have been equally as convincing with the prosecutors.
Evans is said to have testified before an investigatory grand jury. De la Huerta likely did as well.
Weinstein is expected to surrender on Friday, at the start of Memorial Day weekend, timing that minimizes press coverage, but could possibly maximize the time he sits behind bars before he makes whatever bail is set.
Whatever happens in this new case, Vance still owes an apology to the detectives his office falsely blamed for its own failing in 2015. Them, and the initial victim it treated disgracefully while according special treatment to a big shot.
Battilana’s response to the news that justice might finally be done offers Vance and everybody else a worthy example of class and decency. We should all share her hope that the women who came forward feel free and proud now that the district attorney has finally done his job.
—with additional reporting by Lachlan Cartwright