The New York Times reported Sunday that actress and director Asia Argento, who became one of the leading faces of the #MeToo movement after accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, quietly arranged to pay $380,000 to her own accuser in the months after the Weinstein story broke.
Actor and musician Jimmy Bennett, who appeared as a child in Argento’s 2004 film adaptation of J.T. LeRoy’s The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, claimed in documents leaked to the Times that the director sexually assaulted him in the spring of 2013, when he was 17 and she was 37. Through her lawyer, Carrie Goldberg, Argento agreed to pay Bennett $380,000 in exchange for an settlement that barred Bennett from suing and transferred the copyright of a photograph Bennett took that showed the two of them together in bed with “unclothed torsos exposed.”
The Times received documents about Argento and Bennett’s agreement via an anonymous encrypted email but was able to authenticate them. Bennett laid out his claims in a notice of intent to sue sent in November of 2017 to Anthony Bourdain’s longtime lawyer, Richard Hofstetter, who was representing Argento at the time. (Bourdain, who killed himself in June, was in a relationship with Argento and, the Times says, helped her handle Bennett’s accusations.) According to Bennett’s claim letter, he’d stayed in touch with Argento over the years since playing her son in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things and thought of her as a mentor. On May 9, 2013, the two reunited at the Marina Del Rey Ritz-Carlton, a meeting Argento documented on her Instagram page:
Bennett claims that after being driven to the hotel by a family member, Argento got him alone, then gave him alcohol, kissed him, gave him oral sex, and ultimately had intercourse with him. The age of consent in California is 18. After the two had lunch, Bennett went home to Orange County and Argento posted another photo, writing in the comments, “jimmy is going to be in my next movie and that is a fact, dig that jack.”
Bennett was motivated to sue, according to his claim letter, when “his feelings about that day were brought to the forefront recently when Ms. Argento took the spotlight as one of the many victims of Harvey Weinstein.” According to the claim letter, in the five years before the alleged assault, Bennett, who was a successful child actor, earned $2.7 million; since then, he has averaged $60,000 a year. He initially asked for $3.5 million in damages.
The settlement agreement between Argento and Bennett doesn’t have a nondisclosure or confidentiality clause. California law doesn’t allow that kind of provision in settlement agreements involving claims of felony sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation of a minor, although the Times doesn’t say which category Argento’s lawyer thought the allegations would fall under. In a letter outlining the terms of the deal for Argento, Goldberg wrote that the actress decided not to go forum shopping because she “felt it was inconsistent with the public messages you’ve conveyed about the societal perils of non-disclosure agreements.” Bennett is not barred from discussing the case, as Goldberg explained:
Bennett could theoretically tell people his claims against you. However, under this agreement, he cannot sue you for them. Nor can he post the photo of the two of you. … At the very least, he is not permitted to bother you for more money, disparage you or sue–so long as you comply with your obligations in the agreement.
Neither Argento nor her lawyers have commented on the story, despite a dayslong effort on the part of the Times. Through his lawyer, Bennett declined to be interviewed, saying he was “focusing on his music.”