New York Times: Asia Argento, #MeToo leader, paid sexual assault accuser

(CNN) — Actress and filmmaker Asia Argento has found herself on the other side of the #MeToo conversation.

The New York Times reported Sunday that months after publicly accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape, Argento made a deal with a young actor who accused her of sexual assault.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on Monday said it was trying to reach the actor in order to “appropriately document any potential criminal allegations.”

Argento was among the first women to accuse now disgraced movie mogul Weinstein of sexual misconduct and has been a leading figure in the #MeToo movement.

The New York Times says it has lawyers’ documents showing that actor and musician Jimmy Bennett alleged Argento sexually assaulted him in 2013 when he was 17 and she was 37.

According to the publication, Bennett said the assault took place at a hotel in California, where the age of consent is 18. Bennett played Argento’s son in the 2004 movie “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.”

On Tuesday, the Huffington Post reported a statement from Argento, obtained by journalist Yashar Ali, in which the actress denies ever having had a sexual relationship with Bennett. The statement reads:

“I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article dated 20 August 2018, as circulated also in national and international news. I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.

I was linked to him during several years by friendship only, which ended when, subsequent to my exposure in the Weinstein case, Bennett — who was then undergoing severe economic problems and who had previously undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages — unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me. Bennett knew my boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect.

Anthony insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted. Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us. We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.

This is, therefore, the umpteenth development of a sequence of events that brings me great sadness and that constitutes a long-standing persecution. I have therefore no other choice but to oppose such false allegations and will assume in the short term all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues.”

CNN has reached out to representatives for Argento and Bennett for comment.

In its Sunday story, The Times reported it received the lawyers’ documents “through encrypted email by an unidentified party,” and that they included “a selfie dated May 9, 2013, of the two lying in bed.”

“As part of the agreement, Mr. Bennett, who is now 22, gave the photograph and its copyright to Ms. Argento, now 42,” the story said. “Three people familiar with the case said the documents were authentic.”

Bennett reportedly asked Argento for $3.5 million in damages, a month after she spoke out about Weinstein last October and that Argento later arranged to pay Bennett $380,000.

The first installment was made in April 2018, the New York Times said.

The publication said it had been attempting to reach Argento for comment since last Thursday with no success. It said a woman in the office of her lawyer, Carrie Goldberg, said the attorney would not be available for comment.

Bennett would not agree to be interviewed by The New York Times. His attorney, Gordon K. Sattro, sent an email to the publication. “In the coming days,” Sattro wrote, “Jimmy will continue doing what he has been doing over the past months and years, focusing on his music.”

In a statement to CNN on Monday, Sattro asked for privacy for his client.

“At this time, our client, Jimmy Bennett, does not wish to comment on the documents or the events discussed in the New York Times article yesterday evening,” the statement read. “While we realize that the news cycle demands an immediate response, many times, people need more than a few minutes or hours to respond. We are asking that you give our client some time and space.”

“Jimmy is going to take the next 24 hours, or longer, to prepare his response,” the statement added. “We ask that you respect our client’s privacy during this time. My office will reach out once he is prepared to deliver his official response.”

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to six felony sex crimes — two counts of predatory sexual assault, two counts of rape, one first-degree criminal sex act charge and one criminal sex act.

The charges stem from allegations from three women, according to court documents.

Weinstein has denied all allegations of “nonconsensual sexual activity,” and he’s remained free after posting $1 million bail in cash.

Harvey Weinstein seeks dismissal of indictment due to emails between him and accuser

The charges against Weinstein came nine months after The New Yorker and The New York Times published accounts from several women accusing him of various forms of sexual misconduct.

Argento was one of the women whose story was shared in The New Yorker piece. None of the charges currently against Weinstein stem from Argento’s accusations.

Last October, she confirmed her account to CNN and said of the many allegations against Weinstein “This is our truth.”

Harvey Weinstein accused of rape in New Yorker story

Argento gave a speech at the Cannes Film Festival in May during which she alleged she was raped by Weinstein in 1997 when she was 21.

“This festival was his hunting ground,” Argento said in her speech.

On Monday, Weinstein’s attorney Benjamin Brafman released a statement to CNN saying, “This development reveals a stunning level of hypocrisy by Asia Argento, one of the most vocal catalysts who sought to destroy Harvey Weinstein.”

“What is perhaps most egregious, is the timing, which suggests that at the very same time Argento was working on her own secret settlement for the alleged sexual abuse of a minor, she was positioning herself at the forefront of those condemning Mr. Weinstein, despite the fact that her sexual relationship with Mr. Weinstein was between two consenting adults which lasted for more than four years,” the statement continued. “The sheer duplicity of her conduct is quite extraordinary and should demonstrate to everyone how poorly the allegations against Mr. Weinstein were actually vetted and accordingly, cause all of us to pause and allow due process to prevail, not condemnation by fundamental dishonesty.”

Argento was the girlfriend of Anthony Bourdain, who took his own life in June at the age of 61.

Bourdain and Argento met while in Rome filming an episode of his CNN show, “Parts Unknown,” and he wasone of her most ardent supporters after she went public with her allegations against Weinstein.

“I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women,” Bourdain wrote in December 2017. “Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage —  as much as I’d like to say so  — but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories.”

Actress Rose McGowan, who was closely aligned with Argento as a fellow Weinstein accuser, tweeted about the New York Times report.

“I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago,” McGowan tweeted. “Our commonality is the shared pain of being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. My heart is broken. I will continue my work on behalf of victims everywhere.”