Why didn’t district attorney Cyrus Vance pursue criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein back in 2015, even though he was in possession of evidence that Weinstein assaulted Ambra Battilana Gutierrez?
And not just any evidence: NYPD detectives had Weinstein, on tape, admitting to groping Battilana. In the audio recording from the NYPD sting operation, which would eventually become public in October 2017 when Ronan Farrow published it with his New Yorker story that shook Hollywood’s foundations, Weinstein confesses to touching Battilana’s breast, pleads with her to come into his hotel room, and accuses her of “making a big scene” and “embarrassing me” by refusing to go inside.
“Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes,” said Weinstein.
But Vance did not prosecute.
He did, however, take $26,550 in campaign donations from Elkan Abramowitz, Weinstein’s defense attorney, $2,100 of which Abramowitz gifted Vance after Vance dismissed the investigation into Weinstein. (Abramowitz is also a partner at the firm where Vance worked before becoming district attorney.)
Vance also accepted a $10,000 political donation from David Boies, an attorney for Weinstein, months after not pursuing the charges against Weinstein. As The New Yorker story revealed, Boies worked with Black Cube, a private investigation organization, on Weinstein’s behalf to spy on Weinstein’s would-be female accusers and crush the publication of stories about Weinstein’s misconduct, including the story that ultimately ran in The New York Times. (The cherry on top: Boies’ firm was representing the Times in libel litigation at the same time as Boies was working with Weinstein to stop the Times’ bombshell story from coming out. Boies didn’t see the conflict of interest. Unsurprisingly, the Times did not agree, calling his creative-slash-criminal multitasking a “grave betrayal of trust.”)
In an open letter published on The Cut late Sunday Night, Time’s Up, the official Hollywood initiative to combat workplace sexual harassment and gender inequality, called on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “to launch an independent investigation” into Vance and the office of the district attorney to determine the facts behind the failure to prosecute Weinstein:
Reports that District Attorney Cyrus Vance could have been improperly influenced by Mr. Weinstein and/or his representatives, and that senior officials within the DA’s office may have sought to intimidate Battilana are particularly disturbing and merit investigation. Similarly, reports that the New York Police Department chose to isolate Battilana from Vance’s staff because they feared his office was actively working to discredit her story demand immediate scrutiny…
We are concerned that what appears to be the negative relationship between the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Special Victims Unit of the NYPD makes it even less likely that victims who have been assaulted by rich or powerful men will be willing to come forward and that their assailants will be prosecuted and convicted,
The letter followed a searing New York magazine investigation into Vance’s alleged obstruction of the case against Weinstein, which described in detail the ways “Vance and his office were actively working to discredit Battilana.”
Vance’s methods were reportedly so aggressive and invasive — grilling Battilana’s roommates about whether she liked to “bring home lots of strange men,” reviewing video from Battilana’s apartment’s surveillance cameras to “create a record of Battilana’s personal life” — that Michael Osgood, commander of the NYPD’s Special Victims Division, put Battilana in a hotel under a false name “to hide her from the DA.”
As New York put it: “A 22-year-old woman had come forward to accuse one of the most powerful men in Hollywood of sexual abuse, and the police decided she needed protection — not only from her alleged assailant, but from the elected official responsible for prosecuting him.”
And this all happened as Weinstein made good on his ominous threat to Battilana (“don’t ruin your friendship with me…”) by smearing her in the tabloids, painting her as a desperate, gold-digging model. The New York Post called her “the image of the perfect she-devil.”
On Monday, Cuomo announced that the state attorney general would would review Vance’s handling of the Weinstein investigation. As Cuomo’s letter notes, the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation is ongoing and is expected to wrap up in 45 days. The attorney general will “review the entire matter and report to me on its findings. Based on these findings we will decide what further actions may be necessary.” He went on:
The recent revelations about sexual assault and harassment pervasive in our society are most disturbing. We are leading the way forward with the nation’s most comprehensive reform package. This behavior must end.
Meanwhile, Vance has launched an internal review into past contributions to his campaigns. Led by the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, the probe was announced just days after news of the Abramowitz donations broke. Vance has told his campaign to accept no further donations while CAPI investigates.
In addition to the Battilana case, New York reports that 14 women have filed sexual-assault complaints against Weinstein with the NYPD. Five of those cases are now in Vance’s hands.
Among the five is actress Paz de la Huerta’s allegations that Weinstein raped her twice in 2010. Her claim is being “actively investigat[ed],” Sgt. Brendan Ryan of the NYPD told Variety in a statement last November. Another is actress Lucia Stoller, who says Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him when she was a college student at his Tribeca office in 2004. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, an assault of that nature is a criminal sexual act in the first degree, for which, under New York law, there is no statute of limitations. If Stoller’s allegation is true, Weinstein committed a Class B felony punishable by five to 25 years in prison.
Earlier this month, a police official told the Daily Beast that the NYPD has the evidence it needs to arrest Weinstein on felony sexual assault charges. “We’re ready to go with an arrest.”