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Entertainment and Sports Law Litigation

Criminal Probe of Weinstein Role in amfAR Monies

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York is conducting a criminal investigation into transactions connected to The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) that were arranged by embattled film producer Harvey Weinstein, The New York Times reported. The transactions involved $600,000 raised at a May 2015 auction in Cannes on the French Riviera from a pair of fundraising packages arranged by Weinstein.

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The Foundation for AIDS Research, the New York-based nonprofit known as amfAR, has hired white-collar criminal defense lawyers Guy Petrillo and Joshua Klein of New York’s Petrillo Klein & Boxer to aid its response to questions from Manhattan federal prosecutors.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is conducting a criminal investigation into transactions connected to the nonprofit that were arranged by embattled film producer Harvey Weinstein, The New York Times reported. The transactions involved $600,000 raised at a May 2015 auction in Cannes on the French Riviera from a pair of fundraising packages arranged by Weinstein.

The transactions led to a transfer of the same amount of money to a nonprofit theater at Harvard University that staged a production of Finding Neverland, a show Weinstein ultimately produced on Broadway.

During 2016 and earlier in 2017, the same transactions had been the subject of two internal investigations conducted by two other outside lawyers hired by amfAR’s board of directors. Initially, the board tapped Houston lawyer Tom Ajamie, who conducted the first investigation and concluded in a written report issued in September 2016: “We must infer from Mr. Weinstein’s stonewalling that the transaction was indeed illegitimate in some way.”

The amfAR board then hired Orin Snyder, a partner in the New York Office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who conducted a second investigation. In January 2017, Snyder concluded his investigation and told board members that the $600,000 was a “charitable contribution” made to the nonprofit theater, pursuant to agreements between the theater and The Weinstein Co. (The Weinstein Co. terminated Weinstein following press reports of the film producer’s alleged sexual predatory behavior.) Snyder declined to comment publicly on his prior amfAR engagement for this story.

According to prior reporting by our ALM sibling, The American Lawyer, most of Snyder’s focus during his representations to the amfAR board centered on Ajamie and his conduct as it related to Weinstein. Snyder raised concerns that Ajamie was speaking to members of the Hollywood entertainment community about the then-unpublicized allegations about Weinstein sexually harassing or abusing women, potentially triggering a legal battle between amfAR board members and the film producer, who was attempting to stop Ajamie from looking into those allegations.

In November 2017, The New Yorker reported Weinstein hired private investigators, including former Mossad agents, to track actresses and journalists who were discussing allegations about his predatory sexual behavior. In a recent interview, Ajamie told The American Lawyer that he believes Weinstein-hired investigators also followed him.

When Manhattan prosecutors initiated their inquiry this fall, Snyder, a former federal prosecutor, initially responded on behalf of amfAR. But amfAR has since ended its relationship with Gibson Dunn and turned to Petrillo and Klein, both of whom also previously worked as prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

***** Miriam Rozen covers the business of law for ALM, with a focus on law firm-client relationships. Contact her at mrozen@alm.com. Twitter: @MiriamRozen.

The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.

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