Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have opened a criminal investigation into sex abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the high-profile Hollywood producer, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Is there a new angle to the allegations?
The federal investigation will examine if Weinstein allegedly lured or induced women to travel across state lines to commit sex crimes against them. If so, there could be federal charges, the report states.
Dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault and rape. Still, local law enforcement agencies have not arrested Weinstein, the report noted.
Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told the Journal he met with federal prosecutors in Manhattan and is trying to convince them to not proceed.
“Mr. Weinstein has always maintained that he has never engaged in nonconsensual sexual acts,” Brafman told the paper.
Law enforcement officials in Manhattan and Los Angeles began investigations shortly after media reported the sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein in October.
The investigation in New York has been “marked by tensions between police and the Manhattan district attorney’s office,” the Journal reported.
“How much longer can they let it linger?” asked Michael Bock, who investigated Weinstein as a supervisor for the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Division before retiring last year. “We believe he should be arrested.”
Why have there been no local charges?
The New York Police Department is prepared to arrest Weinstein, but needs approval from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the Journal stated. Some police and women’s groups have criticized Vance’s office for deciding not to charge Weinstein in 2015, after an Italian model raised sexual assault allegations.
Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance’s office, said in March: “Police evaluate arrests based on probable cause, whereas prosecutors must make sure they can prove to a jury that every element of a criminal statute was violated beyond a reasonable doubt — a much higher standard.”
A former prosecutor told the Journal that sex crime cases are difficult for federal prosecutors to prove for a number of reasons. The trauma of the incident can impact the victim’s recollection and the victim’s credibility may be called into question, for example.
“Often, there isn’t a contemporaneous record of the assault taking place,” Jeffrey Brown told the Journal. Brown oversaw sex-crimes investigations as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan and now has a private practice.
“In any prosecution, the lack of that kind of corroborating evidence can make the victim’s in-court testimony vulnerable to challenge,” Brown said.
Sexual assault allegations are normally handled by local authorities, legal experts told the paper. Federal sex crime charges, on the other hand, usually center on sex-trafficking and the exploitation of children.
Weinstein is also under investigation for alleged fraud in connection to financial transactions for a charity auction. The investigation has since been broadened to determine if “possible sex crimes occurred in recent months,” according to the report.