Harvey Weinstein charged for sexually assaulting two women during 2013 Oscars week
LOS ANGELES (AP): Los Angeles prosecutors charged Harvey Weinstein on Monday with sexually assaulting two women on successive nights during Oscars week in 2013, bringing the new case against the disgraced Hollywood mogul on the eve of jury selection for his New York trial.
The case, brought by a task force set up by the Los Angeles County district attorney to investigate sex-crime allegations against entertainment figures, now puts Weinstein in deep legal peril on both coasts, where he built a career as the one of the most powerful — and feared — figures in show business before a barrage of accusations from more than 75 women led to his downfall and ignited the #MeToo movement.
Weinstein, 67, was charged with raping a woman at a Los Angeles hotel on Feb 18, 2013, after pushing his way inside her room, then sexually assaulting a woman in a Beverly Hills hotel suite the next night.
He could get up to 28 years in prison on charges of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery.
"We see you, we hear you and we believe you”’ District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in announcing the charges, addressing herself to the studio boss' accusers.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said the charges open the "next chapter" for a man “who has gotten away with too much for too long,” while Beverly Hills Chief Sandra Spagnoli called the cases “horrendous crimes perpetrated by a sexual predator.”
Lawyers for Weinstein had no immediate comment on the new charges, though he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday in the New York case, in which Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing a sex act on another woman in 2006.
He has said any sexual activity was consensual. If convicted of the most serious charges, predatory sexual assault, he faces a mandatory life sentence.
"The walls of justice are closing in on Harvey Weinstein. He is now being prosecuted both in New York and Los Angeles," celebrity attorney Gloria Allred exulted in a statement.
Allred represents one of the alleged victims in the New York case as well as actress Annabella Sciorra, who is scheduled to testify against Weinstein in New York.
She added: “Women are no longer willing to suffer in silence and are willing to testify under oath in a court of law.”
The charges announced Monday in Los Angeles took more than two years to file because the women were reluctant to provide all the information necessary, according to Lacey.
The alleged attacks follow a pattern similar to the offenses described in the New York case, dozens of lawsuits and women’s accounts to media outlets.
The first accuser is an Italian actress, according to her attorney, David Ring. The woman, who asked that her name not be used, said in court documents that Weinstein arrived uninvited at her hotel on the night in question, forced her to perform oral sex on him and raped her, then threatened her life if she disclosed the attack, according to court documents.
Ring said in a statement Monday that his client "values her privacy, but will do what is necessary to obtain justice for what Weinstein did to her in 2013.”
The second woman said she had agreed to meet Weinstein for a business meeting at his Beverly Hills hotel and was unwittingly led into the bathroom of his suite, where a naked Weinstein prevented her from leaving, took down her dress and masturbated as he held her in place by her breast, court papers said.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, unless they agree to be named.
The task force is still investigating sex-crime allegations against Weinstein from three women, the district attorney said.
Prosecutors said they declined to bring charges involving three other women because the cases were beyond the statute of limitations.
Lacey, along with the two police chiefs, urged other victims to come forward. "We need the voices of all victims to help us remove sexual predators from our community and protect others from these violent crimes," she said.
Weinstein is expected to appear in court in California after his trial in New York is finished, Lacey said. She said prosecutors will recommend $5 million bail.
The district attorney said the timing of the Los Angeles charges was unrelated to the New York trial, explaining that the filing and the announcement came on the first business day on which all the necessary people could be gathered.
Neither woman has stepped forward publicly. But one is expected to testify in the New York case as part of an effort by prosecutors to portray Weinstein as a sexual predator with a habit of forcing himself on young actresses and women trying to break into Hollywood.
The alleged attacks in Los Angeles County came days before the Hollywood producer was photographed on the Oscars red carpet with his fashion designer wife, Georgina Chapman, who was pregnant at the time.
At the 2013 Academy Awards, Weinstein had several major contenders, including Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained and The Master.
His movies took home an armful of Oscars, including Jennifer Lawrence’s first Academy Award and trophies for director Quentin Tarantino and actor Christoph Waltz.
At the time, the allegations against Weinstein were little more than rumours around Hollywood. When that year’s nominees were announced, emcee Seth MacFarlane joked after reading the list of contenders for best supporting actress: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
The charges are the first to be brought by the task force in the two years since it was formed. It has investigated more than 20 men, many of them prominent actors and producers, but declined to file charges in nearly all, usually citing statutes of limitations.
Earlier in the day Monday, Weinstein and several of the women who have accused him converged at a New York City courthouse for final preparations for his trial.
Weinstein’s attorneys suggested they knew the additional charges might be coming — “There is a potential LA situation going on,” his lawyer Donna Rotunno told reporters — and asked the judge to sequester the potential jurors to shield them from the news.
Judge James Burke refused and also declined to impose a gag order to prevent Weinstein's attorneys from speaking to the media.
Across the street, actresses and other women who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein branded him a villain undeserving of anyone's pity.
“He looked cowardly. He wouldn’t look at us. He wouldn’t make eye contact,” said Sarah Ann Masse, a performer and writer who said Weinstein once sexually harassed her in his underwear during a job interview. “This trial is a cultural reckoning regardless of its legal outcome.”
Rotunno said she was hopeful a fair jury could be found: “In this great country, you are innocent until proven guilty."
After a string of successes at Miramax and Weinstein Co. with movies such as Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love and The King's Speech, the studio boss met his downfall when many of the allegations against him were brought to light by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017.