Prominent Harvey Weinstein accuser and MeToo advocate, Asia Argento, allegedly paid off a young actor who accused her of sexually assaulting him.
Italian actress and #MeToo leader Asia Argento now is saying through her new lawyer that a teen-age Jimmy Bennett “sexually attacked’ her in 2013 – instead of the other way around – but she chose at the time not to press charges against him out of sympathy for his “desperate” circumstances.
Nevertheless, she wants to make sure that the former child actor Bennett, now 22, doesn’t receive the remaining $130,000 due to him from a $380,000 payout to him arranged by her late boyfriend , Anthony Bourdain, last year, says her new lawyer, Mark Jay Heller of New York.
“She’s not using the word ‘rape,’ she’s saying he ‘sexually attacked’ her” in a hotel room near the Los Angeles airport in 2013, when Bennett was 17 and she was 37, Heller said in a phone interview with USA TODAY on Wednesday.
But what about the picture of the two of them in bed together, apparently naked, on the day of their encounter, which was published by TMZ last month and shows the pair looking happy and not as if either had endured an attack.
“I am not clear on the picture, I’m looking into that myself,” Heller said. He added he believes Bennett sold the picture to TMZ.
Heller spoke after he published a three-page statement on his website in which he attempted to explain Argento’s changing story about her encounter with Bennett, which has undermined her status as a #MeToo movement leader as one of the first women to accuse fallen movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault.
In his statement, Heller maintained Argento’s innocence, predicting “… it will ultimately be determined that Asia never initiated (any) inappropriate contact with a minor, but rather she was attacked by Bennett…”
Heller argued in his statement that two seemingly contrary things Argento has said in recent weeks are both true. He says her denial that she had sex with Bennett was “completely accurate,” and her texts where she admitted that she did have sex with him also were accurate but misconstrued.
Argento issued a statement “strongly” denying she had sex with Bennett after The New York Times published a story based on leaked documents last month showing she agreed to a $380,000 payout to Bennett when he threatened to sue her over their encounter in November 2017.
Heller said that what Argento meant was “she never had a sexual relationship with Bennett” and that their relationship over the years (they met when he was hired at age 7 for a role in a 2004 movie she directed and starred in) was merely one of friendship.
But then texts from Argento to a friend were leaked to TMZ showing that she admitted she had sex with Bennett because “the horny kid jumped me,” and that the experience felt “weird.”
“Everyone assumed (from the texts) that the sex was initiated by her, it was not her who initiated it, he was the perpetrator,” Heller said. “She decided at that time, because of what she perceived to be his troubled circumstances, that she was not going to prosecute him.”
Heller also claimed, without providing any proof, that Bennett himself was “alleged to have been charged in 2014 at the Los Angeles Police Department with ‘unlawful sex with a minor,’ ‘stalking’ and ‘child pornography’ and ‘child exploitation.’…”
USA TODAY has reached out to LAPD and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office about the supposed charges involving Bennett. Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney, told USA TODAY that “our office has no record of him being charged in connection with the referenced 2014 incident.”
Bennett’s lawyer did not return a message from USA TODAY.
Heller himself was vague about the details, claiming he learned of the alleged charges against Bennett from an 80-page investigative report on Bennett that Bourdain commissioned before he agreed to the $380,000 settlement with Bennett. Bourdain died in June of suicide.
Heller also insisted that Argento has the power to block the remaining payment to Bennett, who has already received $250,000 of the settlement. He said the money from Bourdain was placed in an escrow account controlled by Carrie Goldberg, Argento’s and Bourdain’s previous attorney.
Bourdain’s estate is now controlled by his estranged widow on behalf of their teen daughter.
“Asia recognizes that this may very well inspire Bennett to make further false allegations against her and attempt to besmirch her reputation and diminish her credibility in her accusations against Harvey Weinstein,” Heller said. (Argento claims the disgraced filmmaker forcibly performed oral sex on her.)
Heller said the payments to Bennett have been misconstrued as hush money, leaving the wrong impression that Argento was responsible for the encounter with Bennett.
This has “apparently created a public perception that falsely conveyed the impression that Asia initiated and engaged in intercourse with Bennett and was trying to avoid detection by making a $380,000 payment,” Heller’s statement said. “In fact, the payment agreement did not preclude Bennett from making any statements about the event or preclude him from filing a criminal complaint against Asia.”
Heller also reiterated what Argento previously said, that it was Bourdain’s idea to pay Bennett.
“Bourdain chose to protect Asia’s and his reputation and to pay Bennett and allowed Bennett to extract payments from him. Asia was completely against this approach because she had done nothing wrong and especially since the incident was initiated and perpetrated by Bennett against her.”
Heller said Argento wants to launch “Phase Two” of the #MeToo movement by using the controversy over Bennett and her shifting explanations as a way to encourage anyone with a #MeToo story to come forward, regardless of whether their pasts are entirely blameless.
Heller said Bennett should not be kept from making allegations against Argento.
“Asia believes that in Phase Two of the #metoo movement, everyone should come forward (and) tell their story regardless of their past.”
Now celebrities part of the #MeToo movement are speaking up about the Argento-Bennett situation.
“Famous in Love” actress Bella Thorne, who shared her own experience with sexual abuse in January, shared a series of tweets Wednesday saying she wanted out of the movement due to Argento’s alleged actions.
“I’m disgusted. No longer want to be apart of the #metoo movement. Jimmy was a young kid. This is gross,” she tweeted. “If this is what the me too movement is going to be about now I’m not here for it. Victim shaming. Just awful”
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