The report alleged that Argento, one of the most notable faces of the #MeToo movement and an accuser of disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, settled with a former male co-star to the tune of US$380,000.
The actor, Jimmy Bennett, claimed that Argento sexually assaulted him in a hotel room in 2013 when he was only 17 — below the age of consent in California — and she was 37. The Times cited documents sent to the publication anonymously and verified them with three people familiar with the case. In the documents, Bennett said that Argento gave him alcohol, kissed him and performed oral sex on him before the pair had sexual intercourse.
Bennett, now 22, sent a notice of intent to sue in November to Richard Hofstetter, a lawyer for both Argento and her late then-boyfriend, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. He asked for $3.5 million in damages for the “intentional infliction” of emotional distress, assault, battery and damage to his career.
Argento, now 42, allegedly paid out the $380,000 settlement last October, shortly after she publicly claimed that Weinstein raped her. She said the sexual assault took place during the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 when she was 21. (Weinstein has denied all accusations of non-consensual sex, and said Argento’s allegations, in particular, are “completely false.”)
Now, Argento has written a statement vehemently denying the allegations, saying she never slept with Bennett or had any sexual contact with him whatsoever. (Argento sent the statement to freelance journalist Yashar Ali, who verified to Global News that he was the only recipient of the message.)
“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,” read her statement. “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.”
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Argento then veers into unexpected territory, saying that Bourdain “personally undertook to help Bennett economically.”
“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,” it concludes.
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For its report research, the Times received an April email from Argento lawyer Carrie Goldberg acknowledging the settlement and payment to Bennett, which she wrote was “helping” him; Goldberg’s words in the email seem to correspond with Argento’s assertions.
“We hope nothing like this ever happens to you again,” Goldberg wrote in the email. “You are a powerful and inspiring creator and it is a miserable condition of life that you live among s***ty individuals who’ve preyed on both your strengths and your weaknesses.”
As a result of the report, multiple old tweets from Argento to Bennett have resurfaced, including this intimate multi-day tweet thread from 2012.
Rose McGowan, Argento’s friend and fellow actor, has publicly banded with her against Weinstein as a part of the #MeToo movement. McGowan also claimed that Weinstein raped her, and has attacked the producer online and at protests on multiple occasions. In response to the Times report about Argento, she tweeted early Monday that her “heart is broken.”
It’s unclear at this juncture whether Argento is pursuing legal action.
As of this writing, Bennett has not commented publicly on the case or about Argento’s denial.
— With files courtesy of Yashar Ali