Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company are the subjects of a new class-action lawsuit in federal court that accuses them of a pattern of racketeering to cover up Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual assaults.
The plaintiffs, six women, seek to be certified as a class to sue on grounds of racketeering, civil battery, assault, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. All six women say Weinstein sexually assaulted them when they auditioned for him or met him at a company-sponsored events.
The lawsuit accuses Weinstein and associates of engaging in a pattern of harassment of victims. Weinstein’s staff, board members, hired operatives, attorneys, National Enquirer writers, and others allegedly formed what the lawsuit calls the “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise” that violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
“Each participant in the Weinstein Sexual Enterprise had a systematic linkage to each other participant through corporate ties, contractual relationships, financial ties, and the continuing coordination of their activities,” the lawsuit adds.
Weinstein allegedly employed an “army of spies” to track and intimidate journalists and his alleged victims, The New Yorker reported last month, which plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Berman said is the basis for the RICO allegations.
“We think these entities, the army of spies, as one article called it, were all facilitating and using wires and mails to orchestrate,” Berman told The Daily Beast. “This A: allowed [Weinstein] to continue doing this over the years, and B: covered it up. When you’re using wires and mails—which are governed by the Racketeering Act—for the illegal purpose of raping and sexually harassing, that falls squarely within RICO.”
The defendants include Weinstein’s brother Robert and the company they founded, Miramax, before forming their own eponymous film studio. Former Weinstein Company board members are also listed as defendants: Dirk Ziff, Tim Sarnoff, Marc Lasry, Tarak Ben Ammar, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg, and Paul Tudor Jones.
James Dolan, a former director of the Weinstein Company and current owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers, is also accused of knowing “Weinstein’s pattern and practice of predatory sexual conduct toward women from his personal relationship with Weinstein and his position as a director” of the company.
The suit took shape after an alleged Weinstein victim in California approached one of the firms on the case, Berman said.
“We’ve been getting contacted by more and more and more people,” he added.
All six women accuse Weinstein or his employees of luring them into rooms alone with the producer, under the pretense of auditioning or discussing film roles. Once Weinstein was alone with the women, he trapped them in the rooms, assaulted them, or pressured them for sexual favors, the women allege.
“They’re all ladies who wanted to work in the film industry,” Berman said. “They were all lured into his hotel rooms, and he assaulted them.”
One accuser, Katherine Kendall, was 23 in 1993 when she says she met Weinstein at an industry party. Weinstein pressured Kendall’s mother to put Kendall in touch with him, the suit alleges. Kendall’s agent eventually agreed to schedule a meeting with Weinstein, who allegedly welcomed Kendall to “the Miramax family” and invited her to a film screening under the pretense of introducing her to people in the industry. After the screening, Weinstein allegedly pressured Kendall into visiting his apartment.
“You’re in good hands,” he allegedly told her. Then he allegedly took off his clothes, barred Kendall in the apartment, and chased her, demanding sexual favors. When he finally allowed her to leave in a cab, Weinstein allegedly sat watching outside her destination for 20 minutes.
This summer, 24 years after the alleged incident, Kendall received a call from an English-accented man claiming to be a reporter for The Guardian named “Seth Freeman.” The man claimed he was reporting on sexual assault in Hollywood, and pressured Kendall to disclose whether she was going to speak with The New York Times, which was, at the time, also investigating Weinstein.
No one of the name Seth Freeman works at The Guardian. Kendall later learned that a man named Seth Freeman had contacted other Weinstein accusers.
The suit draws heavily from news reporting about how Weinstein relied on close associates, including employees and friends, to maintain control over his narrative.
“The power Weinstein wielded – and his ability to blacklist an actress or model for complaining about his predatory behavior – was so legendary that it was the rule in the entertainment industry that women needed to acquiesce to Weinstein to succeed,” the lawsuit reads. “This rule was so widely accepted that male producers and actors laughingly voiced their expectations that Plaintiff and the Class had and would follow it to further their careers.”
In October, The New York Times and The New Yorker published the accounts of more than a dozen women accusing Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Since then, the list of women who have accused Weinstein of such acts has grown to include more than 80 stories that date back to the 1980s.
Just yesterday, the Times published another piece on Weinstein detailing the “complicity machine,” which included a company- and industry-wide blind eye as to what Weinstein was doing. He would reportedly blacklist and blackmail anyone who posed a threat to him, and sought to stymie any investigations as recently as the lead-up to the Ronan Farrow New Yorker exposé, as The New York Times reported that Weinstein attempted to reach out to the journalist prior to the article’s publication.
Weinstein was fired from The Weinstein Company, which he ran with his brother Bob, shortly after the first allegations were published. Police in New York, Los Angeles, and London say they have open investigations into Weinstein.
—with additional reporting by Karen Han