Pay to play in New York City fascinates us all. We love to hear about how the rich and powerful do unethical things and are caught. Movie mogul is the latest to rightfully fall from his pedestal.
The ugly side of this tale of woe is who knew what, and when, and why wasn’t something done about this before now?
NY Daily News, “Do you feel like it’s necessary to make large contributions (to politicians) in the cost of doing business?”
“I personally don’t,” replied the developer who’d given a fortune to various New York politicians in the course of doing business here. “I think the perception is in a way worse when I make a large contribution . . . where I was asking for something proper and even good, and a candidate really was under pressure to reject it because I made contributions to his campaign.”
That word-salad — which I stumbled over in the files Donald Trump biographer and indefatigable money-trail follower Wayne Barrett generously shared at the end of his life — came in 1988, as the august members of a special State Commission on Government Integrity came to 725 Fifth Ave., better known as Trump Tower, to question The Donald.
The exchange jumped out at me because of the questioner, listed in the transcript as MR. VANCE. That was the former secretary of state under President Carter, whose namesake son, Cyrus Vance Jr., is running unopposed for a third term as Manhattan district attorney amidst a brutal wave of stories about his decisions not to prosecute powerful people that came too late for anyone else to get on the ballot.
Start with Vance’s 2015 call not to charge Harvey Weinstein with forcible touching and sexual abuse after the NYPD provided an appalling tape, recorded by the victim, of him vowing “I won’t do it again” even as he cajoles her to enter his hotel room while threatening her career.
That old news was revisited, in a harsh new light, after the New Yorker published the recording in its blockbuster story last week in which several women accused the movie mogul of rape.
That came less than a week after the magazine reported that the DA’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau had spent two years building a fraud case, including smoking-gun emails, against Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump for lying to prospective buyers about sales at the Trump SoHo.
Then in 2012, Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, gave Vance $25,000, only to have the money returned when it quickly became apparent he had business with the DA’s office, namely a sitdown with Vance himself to discuss the Trump SoHo case.
Months after that, Vance overruled his own prosecutors and told them to drop the case. Months after that, Kasowitz gave another $31,000, which Vance is now returning, while also revising his donor policies.
“Contributions have never influenced Cy Vance’s work and they never will,” a campaign spokesman said, stressing the “rigorous process” that led them to return the money years after collecting it and days after the New Yorker story.
Which is awfully little, awfully late, even if campaign cash had nothing to do with the DA’s decisions.
After a first term marked by the collapse of the rape charges he’d brought against powerful French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Vance’s office seems to have an aversion to sex-crime cases against famous people with very expensive lawyers.
And the Trumps are legendary for dragging out legal battles, which makes the Trump SoHo case — where the supposed victims themselves told the DA that they’d suffered no real harm, and the reported victimizers seemed far less politically relevant back in 2015 — a sensible one, politically speaking at least, to walk away from.
“If I like somebody or I think they are doing a good job in the city, I have a big stake in the city, and if I think somebody is better than somebody else, I generally support that person,” Trump said back in 1988 about why he gave so much to so many politicians here despite his disgust with city government.
Decades after Cyrus Sr. questioned Donald Sr. about doing business with local politicians, there was Donald Sr.’s attorney doing business with local politician Vance Jr. while he had Donald Jr. and Ivanka on the legal hook.
Kasowitz says he donated to the Manhattan DA because he is “a person of impeccable integrity,” and “a brilliant lawyer,” and that “I have never made a contribution to anyone’s campaign, including Cy Vance’s, as a ‘quid pro quo’ for anything.”
I take Kasowitz and Vance at their words, about there being no quid pro quo.
But what Trump said back then about his gifts pressuring politicians to act against his interests didn’t play out this time.
The final question the Commission on Government Integrity posed to Trump was whether it made a difference “to you in that meeting (with a city official) that you may have given that person $150,000 over the past three years?”
“It doesn’t make any difference to me. Your question is does it make any difference to them, and you’ll have to ask them.”
Mr. Vance said his office did not have enough evidence to prosecute Mr. Weinstein, despite an audio tape an Italian model made for the police on which the producer apologized when the woman asked him why he had touched her breasts.“Our best lawyers looked at the case,” Mr. Vance said, speaking to reporters after an event at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “I, like they, was very disturbed by the contents of the tape. It’s obviously sickening. But at the end of the day we operate in a courtroom of law, not the court of public opinion, and our sex crime prosecutors made a determination that this was not going to be a provable case.”
Mr. Vance, who is running unopposed for a third term, has come under withering criticism this week from some quarters for his decision, after revelations in The New York Times and The New Yorker about Mr. Weinstein’s sexual harassment of women he worked with over the last three decades and the payments he made to female accusers to keep their complaints out of the public eye.
One of the women who accused Mr. Weinstein of sexual misconduct was Ambra Battilana, a model from Italy. In March 2015, Mr. Weinstein met Ms. Battilana at a party and invited her to his TriBeCa office on a Friday evening to discuss her career, according to a police report
Within hours, she walked into a police station, telling officers Mr. Weinstein had grabbed her breasts after asking if they were real, then put his hand up her skirt, according to the police report.
Detectives from the special victims unit had her set up a meeting with Mr. Weinstein the following night at the bar of the Tribeca Grand Hotel. She recorded the conversation for the police.
During the meeting, Mr. Weinstein invited Ms. Battilana up to his room to wait while he showered, according to the tape, first published on The New Yorker’s website on Tuesday. She balked at entering the room, however, and said she wanted to leave. In a tense exchange in the hallway, she asked him why he had touched her breasts the day before.
“I’m used to that,” he answered. “You’re used to that?” she asked. “Yes,” he said, adding: “I won’t do it again.”
Detectives thought the tape corroborated Ms. Battilana’s account and would be enough evidence to arrest Mr. Weinstein, police officials said.
But the chief of Mr. Vance’s sex crimes bureau, Martha Bashford, determined after two weeks of investigation that she could not prove a crime had been committed.
Prosecutors said the police did not have enough proof to show beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the two charges they could bring: forcible touching or third-degree sexual abuse. To prove either crime, the state must show the accused person touched someone to degrade them or for sexual gratification, not some other purpose.
Ms. Battilana had told the police she and Mr. Weinstein were discussing the possibility of her becoming a lingerie model when he asked if her breasts were natural or augmented and then touched her, two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation said.
Mr. Weinstein was represented in talks with the district attorney’s office by two defense lawyers with ties to Mr. Vance: Daniel S. Connolly, a former Manhattan prosecutor, and Elkan Abramowitz, who is Mr. Vance’s former law partner and a donor to his campaign.
Mr. Vance said on Wednesday the donations had not influenced him. He noted contributions from defense lawyers were legal and were “unfortunately part of running for office.”
“No contribution ever in my seven years as district attorney has ever had any influence on my decision-making in a case,” he said.
“Obviously, he has some serious issues, and the tape is terrible,” Mr. Vance said. “But I, as D.A., have to be guided by the evidence and the element of the crime and by experts in the office, and if I stop being guided by any of those things and start being guided by outside influences, whether it’s money or it’s public opinion, then I’m not doing my job.”
Correction: October 11, 2017An earlier version of this article misstated the circumstances under which Mr. Weinstein made payments to women who accused him of sexual harassment. He did so to keep the accusations out of the public eye, not to settle civil cases. No civil cases accusing Mr. Weinstein of sexual harassment were filed.
By Eric Levenson, CNN, NEW YORK —
The explosive sexual harassment and sexual assault accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein aren’t just roiling Hollywood. They’re also shaking up the New York City criminal justice system.
The New York Police Department and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office traded public finger-pointing on Tuesday in response to questions about why Weinstein was not charged with a crime after a 2015 sting operation recorded him making potentially incriminating comments to a young woman.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. accused the NYPD of providing “insufficient” evidence to prove a crime, while the police department defended its techniques and investigation.
Weinstein, the studio executive and political power broker, is facing allegations of rape, unwanted touching and assault by a number of women, including accusations of sexual harassment by actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, in recent stories published in The New York Times and The New Yorker.
The sting operation
A story Tuesday in The New Yorker accuses Weinstein of rape by multiple women and includes an audio recording of Weinstein speaking with Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, a young model, as part of a sting operation. The NYPD set up the sting after Gutierrez told authorities that Weinstein groped her the day before.
Gutierrez, wearing a recording device, met up with Weinstein at a hotel in Manhattan. On the tape, Weinstein can be heard repeatedly telling Gutierrez to come inside his hotel room. She repeatedly rebuffs his requests and says she is not comfortable doing so.
At one point, Gutierrez asks him, “Why yesterday (did) you touch my breast?”
“Oh please, I’m sorry, just come on in. I’m used to that,” he responds.
“You’re used to that?” she says.
“Yes, come in,” he says.
“No, but I’m not used to that,” she says.
“I won’t do it again,” he says.
Weinstein’s representatives said they have no comment on the tape.
Despite the tape, Weinstein was not arrested or charged with any wrongdoing at the time.
“After analyzing the available evidence, including multiple interviews with both parties, a criminal charge is not supported,” the District Attorney’s Office said at the time, according to The New Yorker.
NYPD sources told CNN the department has no open investigations into Weinstein’s actions and no additional victims have come forward with accusations against him.
The sources also said there are a number of reasons why the case will not be reopened, one being that the statute of limitations for what could have been a misdemeanor offense has expired.
A representative for Weinstein released a statement denying any accusations of rape.
“Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances,” the statement said.
“Mr. Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual. Mr. Weinstein has begun counseling, has listened to the community and is pursuing a better path. Mr. Weinstein is hoping that, if he makes enough progress, he will be given a second chance.”
Why no criminal charges?
So why did Weinstein not face charges?
On Tuesday, after The New Yorker published that audio, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office released a statement implying that the NYPD had dropped the ball in its investigation.
The NYPD arranged the sting “without our knowledge or input” and did not give prosecutors “the opportunity before the meeting to counsel investigators” on what was needed to prove a misdemeanor sex crime, according to Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo.
“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,” Friedman Agnifilo said in the statement.
“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.”
Friedman Agnifilo said Weinstein’s reported pattern of mistreating women is “disgraceful and shocks the conscience.”
“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct that occurred in 2015, we would have,” she said.
NYPD defends its actions
But the NYPD took issue with that characterization of their investigation, saying in a statement that the case was carried out by experienced detectives and supervisors from the department’s Special Victims Unit.
“The detectives used well-established investigative techniques. The recorded conversation with the subject corroborates the acts that were the basis for the victim’s complaint to the police a day earlier,” the NYPD said.
“This follow-up recorded conversation was just one aspect of the case against the subject. This evidence, along with other statements and timeline information, was presented to the office of the Manhattan District Attorney.”
In addition, Vance’s office has faced criticism for accepting a $10,000 donation from David Boies, an attorney for Weinstein, in August 2015 — four months after the decision not to press charges, according to campaign financial disclosure forms from the New York State Board of Elections.
However, Vance campaign spokesperson Stephen Sigmund said in a statement that Boies was not Weinstein’s lawyer in that criminal case.
“Mr. Boies has been a longtime supporter of Cy Vance, both well before 2015 and well after. His contributions, like those of any other contributor, do not and never will influence the work of the DA s office,” the statement said.
The disclosure form also shows that Boies donated $15,000 to Vance’s campaign in 2013, $10,000 in 2011 and $20,000 in 2008.
Boies’ office did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Vance told reporters Wednesday that his office’s decision not to press charges was guided by a recommendation from the head of the Sex Crimes Unit and had nothing to do with any donations.
“No contribution ever in my seven years of (being) District Attorney has ever had any impact on my decision making in a case,” Vance said.
In his decades at Miramax and the Weinstein Company, Weinstein produced such Oscar-winning movies as “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “The English Patient.” He was fired from the film company he co-founded on Sunday.