Film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct toward women was aided and abetted by a criminal enterprise made up of law firms, private investigators, fellow producers and others, a group of plaintiffs argued in a suit filed on Wednesday in federal court in New York.
The proposed class action, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of six plaintiffs who say Weinstein assaulted them—in some cases with the assistance of employees from The Weinstein Co. or Miramax—includes civil claims under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The suit, filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by attorneys from Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, is the latest in a cascade of legal issues surrounding Weinstein and allegations surrounding him; since Oct. 10, the suit states, more than 60 women have come forward to say they have been assaulted or harassed by Weinstein at some point.
The defendants—referred to collectively in the suit as the “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise”—worked together to prevent disclosure and prosecution of Weinstein’s alleged behavior through extortion, threats and harassment, the plaintiffs allege, and through misrepresentations to the media and to Weinstein’s alleged victims.
In a statement forwarded by a spokeswoman for Hagens Berman, managing partner Steve Berman said the suit presents a “classic RICO case.”
“Exactly what we have here is an enterprise of many assisting Weinstein’s unlawful conduct, and RICO prohibits unlawful enterprises,” Berman said. If successful on the RICO claims, the plaintiffs could be entitled to treble damages.
The plaintiffs say that the so-called Weinstein Sexual Enterprise took part in racketeering activity by committing mail and wire fraud to carry out the alleged scheme of silencing Weinstein’s accusers and transferring money for the furtherance of the scheme.
The plaintiffs also make claims of negligent supervision, civil battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Weinstein and his companies, as well as ratification claims against Miramax and The Weinstein Co. board of directors.
The suit echoes claims contained in a proposed class action also filed by Hagens Berman in November in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, which also includes the RICO claims.
But the New York lawsuit differs from the one filed in California in that it is brought on behalf of named plaintiffs; the California suit was filed on behalf of a plaintiff identified as “Jane Doe.” The New York case also differs from the California case in that it targets current and former members of The Weinstein Co. board of directors, including New York Knicks owner James Dolan, who was a member of the board from 2015-16, according to court papers.
Also among the board members named in the suit was Tarak Ben Ammar, who in October told a French TV station that the board told Weinstein in 2015 to resign the company’s code of conduct after allegations about Weinstein’s conduct with model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez came to the fore, the lawsuit states.
Gutierrez’s claims against Weinstein—that he groped her breasts and later tried to pressure her to join him in his hotel room—caused a stir in the New York legal community after it was revealed that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office declined to prosecute Weinstein, citing insufficiency of evidence.
The suit also names law firms K&L Gates; Boies Schiller Flexner; U.K.-based BCL Burton Copeland; and Israel-based Gross, Kleinhendler, Hodak, Halevy, Greenberg & Co. as defendants in the case.
In addition to Berman, Hagens Berman attorneys Jason Zweig, Shelby Smith, Elizabeth Fegan, Emily Brown and Robert Carey; and M. Cris Armenta and Credence Sol of the Armenta Law Firm also appear on the brief.
Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman of Brafman & Associates, declined to comment on the new filing.
Jeffrey Grell of the Minneapolis-based firm Grell Feist, who is not involved with the case and who teaches a class on RICO at the University of Minnesota Law School, said that while RICO statutes—which were put on the books in the early 1970s and initially intended to crack down on organized crime—are applied to a wide array of cases, it is unusual for RICO to be applied to a case involving alleged sexual misconduct, and “doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Grell said that adding the RICO counts to the case on top of the more straightforward tort claims contained in the complaint could make the case more complex. He compared the addition of RICO claims to the case to “buying a jet plane” to get from one place to another when using a bicycle would suffice.
“All that it does is extend the time of the litigation, the risk of the litigation,” Grell said.