Asia Argento’s new attorney, Mark Jay Heller — whose previous clients have included Lindsay Lohan and “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz — has hit back at the sexual assault allegation made by her former co-star, Jimmy Bennett. Yesterday, Heller released a 1,400-word statement on behalf of the Italian actress which acknowledged that there was a “sexual attack” involving Argento and Bennett in 2013 — only he’s saying that she was not the perpetrator, but the victim.
In August, the New York Times reported that Argento had arranged for Bennett to be paid $380,000 in order to ward off a potential lawsuit over his claim that Argento gave him alcohol and had sex with him in May 2013, when he was 17 and a minor according to California law. According to the Times, Bennett’s attorneys initially contacted the longtime lawyer for the late Anthony Bourdain, Argento’s boyfriend at the time, who tragically killed himself in June. Heller’s statement claims Bourdain “chose” to foot the costs of the settlement “to protect Asia’s and his reputation,” which was “vulnerable to embarrassment” because the couple were “early and prominent supporters of the #MeToo movement.”
Now, in this statement, Argento’s lawyer claims she did not initiate the encounter. Instead, she says, she became “frozen” when Bennett allegedly got on top of her, and that she “chose at the time not to prosecute.” The statement also goes on to explain that Argento “will not permit any portion of the balance” left from the settlement agreement between her and Bennett to be paid “for this falsely alleged incident.”
Last fall, Argento was one of the first women to come forward with accusations of sexual assault and harassment against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which launched the #MeToo movement. Argento and Bourdain were both vocal in their support for other survivors, so the revelation that Bourdain helped Argento facilitate a “financial payout” that would effectively, if not legally, silence an accusation against Argento was shocking and disappointing. Argento initially denied having had any sexual contact with Bennett, but late last month, model Rain Dove, who has been romantically involved with Argento’s fellow Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan, provided the NYPD with text messages allegedly from Argento in which she admitted, “I had sex with him it felt weird.”
“When it became apparent that they were not going to allow for justice to occur or for the truth to be on the table, I knew I had no choice but to go forward because otherwise I would be complicit and I would be robbing another individual of their ability to be heard in their story,” Dove told Today last month.
While McGowan had initially defended Argento, she has since stated that she felt “betrayed” by her now former friend. In late August, McGowan released a lengthy statement expressing her support for Dove’s actions and explaining why she was severing ties with her “ride or die.”
“Asia you were my friend,” McGowan wrote. “I loved you. You’ve spent and risked a lot to stand with the MeToo movement. I really hope you find your way through this process to rehabilitation and betterment. … Do the right thing. Be honest. Be fair. Let justice stay its course. Be the person you wish Harvey could have been.”
Bourdain’s side of the story may never be fully known, as he died well before the Times story broke. But the new statement from Heller implies that Bennett’s initial lawsuit threat was motivated by him learning that Argento was in a romantic relationship with someone he believed to be “wealthy.” Argento had been “completely against” the settlement, the statement reads, because “she had done nothing wrong”; however, she respected Bourdain’s “choice to avoid the potential intrusion into their relationship and the negative impact it might have,” according to the statement, specifically on Bourdain and his “high profile position” in media.
The statement is framed as an announcement of sorts for Argento’s launch of “Phase 2” of the #MeToo movement, which “dictates that the voice of a victim, even one with a history that may be in question, should be heard.” It goes on to express hope that Argento will be cleared in the court of public opinion of initiating sex with a minor. It also argues once again that she was the victim of a sexual attack and “might even be suffering the fallback of a smear campaign.”
Yet the statement makes new and potentially damaging allegations about Bennett, claiming that in 2014, Bennett was charged by the Los Angeles Police Department with “unlawful sex with a minor,” “stalking,” “child pornography” and “child exploitation,” for an alleged incident in which the complainant said Heller requested nude photos and “had a history of drug abuse.” Rolling Stone has been unable to locate any prior reporting about this alleged incident, and the statement itself does not include any additional details that could expedite the process of corroborating the allegation. Rolling Stone’s efforts to reach both Mark Jay Heller and Bennett’s attorney, Gordon K. Sattro, have thus far been unsuccessful.