Harvey Weinstein’s longtime Los Angeles limo driver was called to the witness stand Wednesday to preserve his testimony related to at least one alleged rape at the center of the jailed movie mogul’s California criminal case.
According to prosecutors, Alfred “Freddy” Baroth, 74, was Weinstein’s on-call driver during a critical three-day period in February 2013 that matches up with allegations the Oscar winner bullied his way into the room of an Italian actress at the Mr. C Beverly Hills hotel shortly after the two exchanged greetings at an L.A. film festival. Prosecutors subpoenaed Baroth for the conditional exam due to his advanced age and the possibility that he might not be available to appear in person at an eventual trial in the case.
According to his indictment, Weinstein forced the Italian actress, identified as Jane Doe. No. 1, to participate in oral sex against her will and then raped her on Feb. 18, 2013.
“He grabbed me by the hair and forced me to do something I did not want to do,” the actress told the Los Angeles Times in her only media interview since reporting the alleged incident to police in 2017. “He then dragged me to the bathroom and forcibly raped me.” She told the outlet the alleged attack unfolded shortly after midnight on Feb. 18, 2013.
In his testimony Wednesday, Baroth said he picked Weinstein up from a private aviation company at the Van Nuys airport around 5 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2013, worked as his driver for 7.5 hours, and then dropped him off at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. He said he invoiced Weinstein for an 8.5-hour “engagement” because he always billed an extra 30 minutes of commute time on either end of a shift. That 30 minutes could prove critical.
“When you were asked by [LAPD] Detective Vargas on March 6, 2019, you told Detective Vargas that ‘You got done with Harvey Weinstein around 1:30 in the morning.’ Correct?” Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson asked Baroth.
“Correct,” Baroth replied. “That means I got done about 1 o’clock, and we billed til 1:30.”
But under cross-examination, Baroth said he couldn’t actually recall what time he returned Weinstein to the Peninsula in the early hours of Feb. 18, 2013. He then agreed with Weinstein’s defense lawyer, Mark Werksman, that the drop-off time could have been closer to 12:30 a.m.
Baroth’s testimony could be important as the timeline of Weinstein’s precise movements continues to emerge. The driver confirmed that he ferried Weinstein to the L.A.-Italia Film Fest on Feb. 17, 2013, but then said he couldn’t recall after that. He also testified he worked as Weinstein’s dedicated chauffeur around the times of two other alleged sex assaults on Feb. 19, 2013, and May 11, 2010.
Leaning back in his chair and appearing comfortable on the witness stand, Baroth testified Wednesday that the last time he worked for Weinstein was the middle of October 2017, when he drove the producer around Los Angeles for a few days shortly after the the New York Times published the blockbuster Oct. 5 exposé that effectively blew the roof off of the Hollywood honcho’s history of predatory behavior.
“That particular time period was when all the bad news broke. Mr. Weinstein came here with his family. I was with him three or four days until I put him on a plane to Arizona,” Baroth stated, confirming Weinstein later paid him an extra $1,000 bonus for his services that week and also paid for a lawyer to represent him in the case.
Baroth said the final goodbye stuck with him: “It was, you know, very heartfelt. This was the last time I was ever going to see him.”
Weinstein, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of sex assault involving five unidentified women. Prosecutors allege the once-powerful producer raped three women — one of them on two separate occasions a year apart — and sexually assaulted two other victims during attacks at hotels in and around Beverly Hills between 2004 and 2013.
The transcript of Weinstein’s grand jury proceeding remains sealed, but prosecutors alleged that a day after Weinstein’s purported rape of Jane Doe No. 1 at the Mr. C luxury hotel, he sexually assaulted another victim at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills. The Los Angeles DA’s office first charged Weinstein on Jan. 6, 2020, just as jury selection was getting underway at the producer’s New York criminal trial.
In that trial, on Feb. 24, 2020, a Manhattan jury found Weinstein guilty of two felony sex crimes: the third-degree rape of aspiring actress Jessica Mann at a DoubleTree hotel in Midtown Manhattan in 2013; and the first-degree sex assault of production assistant Miriam Haley at Weinstein’s SoHo apartment in 2006. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
He has since appealed his landmark #MeToo conviction, with the First Judicial Department of New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division hearing oral arguments on the challenge last December. In a surprise to many spectators, the five-judge panel appeared largely sympathetic to Weinstein’s claims that his Manhattan trial judge, Justice James Burke, allowed the jury to hear too many complaints about Weinstein’s alleged history of bad behavior.
The justices did not immediately rule on the appeal but raised enough doubt with their questions and comments that some court observers have speculated Weinstein’s conviction might be overturned. If that happens, it’s possible Weinstein could get out on bail pending his trial in Los Angeles.
At the Dec. 15 appellate hearing, Weinstein’s new defense lawyer, Barry Kamins, argued that Justice Burke erred when he ruled that if Weinstein chose to testify, prosecutors could cross-examine him over 28 proposed prior “bad acts,” including when he allegedly abandoned an assistant in a foreign country and threatened to “cut off” another man’s genitals with gardening shears. Weinstein’s lawyers said the decision put him in a “stranglehold,” leaving him no choice but to refrain from testifying.
“What did leaving his employee on the side of the road in a foreign country have anything to do with this sex crime case? Other than, ‘Let’s put in as much as we can to show that this guy is a terrible guy,'” asked Assistant Manhattan D.A. Valerie Figueredo during the oral arguments. Figueredo replied that it “demonstrated [Weinstein’s] willingness to further his own interests at the expense of others.”
“You’re really arguing that this was not overkill?” Justice Manzanet-Daniels shot back.
“There are trials every day where we have defendants who have a rap sheet a mile long. They’ll have 20 felony convictions on their rap sheet, and I see no judge say, ‘Go ahead. Go to town on all of them,’” Manzanet-Daniels said. “There is a balance.”
A decision from the appellate court is expected in the coming months.
No trial date has been set yet in Weinstein’s Los Angeles criminal case.