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Is the Case Against Harvey Weinstein in Danger of Collapsing?

Lawyers for the disgraced media mogul, who has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than 80 women, have argued that the case “is not what it was cracked up to be”

Harvey Weinstein during a court hearing in his sexual assault case at State Supreme Court in New York, Oct. 11, 2018.

Harvey Weinstein during a court hearing in his sexual assault case at State Supreme Court in New York, October 11th, 2018.

STEVEN HIRSCH/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Five months after Harvey Weinstein was first indicted on sex crimes charges in New York, The New York Times reports that prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are struggling to hold together their case against the disgraced Hollywood producer. In May, Weinstein was charged with first- and third-degree rape for an incident with one woman in 2013, and first-degree criminal sex act — forced oral sex — with another in 2004; then, in July, he was indicted on three additional felony sex charges for an incident involving a third victim, who claims Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2006. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty.

At a hearing earlier this month, Judge James Burke dismissed the one charge stemming from the 2004 incident after it was revealed that police and prosecutors had withheld evidence from the grand jury which contradicted the account given by the alleged victim, actress Lucia Evans. Evans had testified before the grand jury in May that Weinstein had forced her to give him oral sex during a casting meeting at the Manhattan offices of Weinstein’s film company, Miramax. But three months before the indictment, while the NYPD was conducting their investigation into Weinstein after the producer was hit with a string of assault and harassment accusations, a friend of Evans told lead Detective Nicholas DiGaudio that the actress had described the encounter as consensual in exchange for the promise of an “acting job.”

According to lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi, the DA’s Office first learned about the contradictory account when the friend contacted them directly in August. A letter sent by prosecutors to the court in mid-September, and unsealed after the hearing, explained that DiGaudio “failed to inform” them of “important details” of the interview, and advised the friend that she had no obligation to cooperate with prosecutors, telling her “less is more.” It was also alleged at the hearing this month that DiGaudio had told another of Weinstein’s accusers to delete any compromising information from her phone before turning it over to prosecutors (which, on the advice of her attorney, she did not do).

The letter went on to say that although Evans maintains that she “never consented to any form of sex with” Weinstein, prosecutors had also belatedly learned about an email Evans sent to her husband three years earlier, in which she described the 2004 incident with different details than those given to police. During the hearing, when Weinstein’s attorney asked Judge Burke to dismiss the charge related to Evans’ accusation, Illuzzi didn’t object.

Evans’ attorney, Carrie Goldberg, slammed prosecutors for abandoning her client, insisting that her statements to authorities and before the grand jury were consistent.

“The first challenge they faced, rather than fighting for this case, they just dropped it,” Ms. Goldberg told the Times. “It’s disingenuous to claim that this dismissal was based on was anything other than procedural mistakes.”

DeGaurdio insisted to the Times through a union representative that he “disclosed all of the information in question,” but he has since been removed from the case. Prosecutors now have to make the difficult decision about whether to call him to testify.

While Illuzzi assured the court that the case against Weinstein is “moving full-speed ahead” and her office continues to interview potential victims, the producers’ attorneys have continued to try to unravel the existing charges. In August, they they released over a hundred emails between Weinstein and the alleged victim from the 2013 incident that they say were withheld from the grand jury. According to the May indictment, the alleged victim, who has not been named, claims Weinstein trapped her inside a hotel room at the Doubletree Inn and raping her. But Weinstein’s attorneys say that the emails prove the two were engaged in a “consensual and intimate” relationship that lasted well beyond the alleged assault.

“This case is not what it was cracked up to be when it was first announced,” said defense attorney Benjamin Brafman, who has argued that the entire case has been tainted by the non-disclosures and DiGaudio’s questionable integrity.

According to the Times, prosecutors and the NYPD have been at odds over Weinstein since 2015, when Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance decided not to press charges against Weinstein after model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, working with the NYPD, secretly recorded the producer apologizing to her for groping her breasts. Weinstein’s attorney at the time, Elkan Abramowitz, was a former partner of Mr. Vance’s and a big contributor to Vance’s campaign for DA. According to one anonymous prosecutor who spoke to the Times, the conflict “sowed a deep distrust between the two agencies.”

Regardless, Weinstein has still be accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than 80 women, and victims’ advocates insist that prosecutors and police investigators need to put aside their beef and work together “for a meticulous investigation and prosecution.”

“Harvey Weinstein needs to be held accountable,” Sonia Ossorio, the president of New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, told the Times. “He can’t get away with it again.”

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