The jury in the New York rape trial of Harvey Weinstein has heard that the once-powerful movie mogul employed the Israeli private investigation firm Black Cube to try to squash a New York Times article that blew the lid on sexual misconduct allegations against him and sparked the #MeToo movement.
Dev Sen, a corporate lawyer at the prestigious New York law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, told the court that his company had acted as go-between connecting the beleaguered movie producer to Black Cube. The private detective firm has a staff largely consisting of alumni of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
Under questioning by Manhattan prosecutors, Sen said that on 11 July 2017 – three months before the New York Times came out with its bombshell article revealing that Weinstein had paid off multiple women over decades to bury their sexual harassment complaints – Boies Schiller signed a contract with Black Cube. The deal was sealed under the instructions of Weinstein.
The jury was not given details about the nature of the contract. But in legal argument in court on Thursday out of the earshot of jurors, key details of its contents were discussed.
Lawyers read out elements of the contract. One excerpt said Black Cube was employed to “provide intelligence which will help the client’s efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper”.
The contract also included a bonus clause under which Black Cube would be paid $300,000 if they actually succeeded in foiling publication of the Times article.
During heated legal argument, the lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon argued that the contract “shows that the defendant was concerned about an article coming out and he was looking for Anabella Sciorra to be investigated”. Sciorra is one of six women who feature in the Weinstein rape trial.
Last week Sciorra gave dramatic evidence in which she described allegedly being raped by the film producer in her Manhattan apartment in the winter of 1993-94.
Weinstein faces five counts that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is charged with two counts of rape, one that he forcibly performed oral sex on a woman and two counts of predatory sexual assault.
He denies all the charges.
Thursday’s testimony and legal arguments corroborated the work of the journalists who exposed the elaborate operation created by Weinstein and his associates in an attempt to try to prevent his alleged sexual misconduct and crimes ever seeing the light of day.
The Black Cube contract was first reported by Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker, who revealed that the Israeli firm, on Weinstein’s dollar, deployed a number of investigators using false identities to befriend women accusing the movie titan of sexual misconduct and extract information from them.
Farrow also revealed that the contract discussed in court on Thursday was signed personally by David Boies. The news sent waves through legal circles, because Boies had been seen as a champion of liberal causes, representing Al Gore in his fight with George Bush over the results of the 2000 presidential election and invalidating California’s ban on gay marriage.
In the wake of the shocking disclosure that Boies had been involved in employing a private detective firm in an attempt to scupper a New York Times article at the very same time as he was employed as a legal adviser to the New York Times, the newspaper decided to cut ties with him.
Weinstein’s lead defense lawyer at the trial, Donna Rotunno, managed to squeeze in a compliment for Boies during cross-examination. She asked Sen to agree that “Mr Boies does have a wonderful reputation in New York and worldwide.”
Prosecutors instantly objected to the question, and the judge, James Burke, sustained the intervention, striking the remark from the record.
The case continues.