N.Y. Governor Orders Investigation Into DA’s Handling of Weinstein Case

March 20, 2018
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by Leila Miller Tow Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowships

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. speaks to the media during the inaugural National Prosecutorial Summit in October 2014. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

New York’s governor ordered a review on Monday of how the Manhattan district attorney handled a 2015 sexual assault allegation against the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The investigation stems from the decision by District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. not to prosecute Weinstein following a New York Police Department sting that secretly recorded Weinstein apologizing to Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, an Italian model, for groping her.

“It is of great concern that sexual assault cases have not been pursued with full vigor by our criminal justice system,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “It is critical not only that these cases are given the utmost attention but also that there is public confidence in the handling of these cases.”

Cuomo’s announcement came a day after Time’s Up, an organization created by women in Hollywood to fight sexual harassment, called on him to investigate Vance’s decision not to prosecute Weinstein. The letter cited a New York Magazine article published on Friday that described how members of the New York Police Department believed that the district attorney’s office sought to derail the investigation.

The district attorney’s office — which is currently investigating other allegations against Weinstein — said in a statement for the FRONTLINE documentary Weinstein that they acted professionally and that what emerged from the audio and subsequent investigation was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law.

In a statement yesterday, Danny Frost, a spokesman for the district attorney, said, “The idea that our Office would shrink from the challenge of prosecuting a powerful man is belied by our daily work and unparalleled record of success on behalf of sexual assault survivors.”

Since the New York Times and the New Yorker reported allegations against Weinstein in October, more than 100 women have come forward with accusations against him — some dating back decades. Many of his accusers are now suing. Weinstein, who was fired from The Weinstein Company, has denied any non-consensual sexual conduct.

In the face of Gutierrez’s allegations, Weinstein had a powerful legal team that included a donor to Vance’s campaign and the former head of the Sex Crimes Unit inside the district attorney’s office. Weinstein’s attorneys also employed K2, a private intelligence firm specializing in corporate investigations and security. A former K2 employee who spoke with FRONTLINE said that the firm was tasked with investigating Gutierrez’s past in Italy, where Italian investigators claimed that she had engaged in prostitution, which she denies.

New York Magazine reported that shortly after Gutierrez filed her complaint, Vance’s investigators interviewed her roommates about her sexual history, asking if she was a prostitute. The next day, the commander of the NYPD’s Special Victims Division directed the unit to place her in a hotel under a false name in order to hide her from Vance’s investigators, the magazine reported. In the piece, a senior adviser to Vance denies that prosecutors interviewed Gutierrez’s roommates or aggressively questioned her.

“They were asking me questions like, ‘are this news real?  Like, you’re a prostitute?’” Gutierrez told FRONTLINE. “I was asking them, like, ‘Did you hear the recording?’  They were, like, ‘Oh, yes, I heard of it, but you have to explain. This situation in Italy is very confusing.’  I was, like, ‘Guys, I mean, I’m the victim.'”

After Vance declined to prosecute, Gutierrez signed a non-disclosure agreement and eventually received $1 million – Weinstein’s biggest known settlement.

“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 Time’s Up letter said.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is leading the investigation into Vance’s handling of the Gutierrez case. He is also is currently pursuing a civil lawsuit against The Weinstein Company, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday after a series of failed attempts to save the company. The studio announced that it would be releasing from nondisclosure agreements anyone “who suffered or witnessed any form of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein.”

“We are deeply familiar with Harvey Weinstein’s years of egregious sexual abuse, and recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against him alleging severe and persistent abuse of employees at TWC,” Schneiderman said in a statement, referring to The Weinstein Company. “We are committed to pursuing a full, fair, and independent review of this matter.”

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