By Tabatha Villegas
Over the course of five years, the world has become familiar with former film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged exploits, civil lawsuits, and criminal
trial(s) surrounding the extensive sexual offense allegations against him.
But, have you heard of the involvement of the private investigation firms he hired to surveil (and silence) his accusers? From the women who brought charges against him to the journalists who put themselves in peril willing to uncover the truth, some of the best private investigative agencies in the world made it their mission to silence and discredit anyone coming forward and attempting to unmask the truth.
In this article, we are going to explore how one of the most notorious figures in Hollywood used his influence and power to protect himself and attempt to secure his public image by utilizing the skills of those who work in private investigation.
It’s happened time and time again: celebrities calling out the Miramax and The Weinstein Company’s (TWC) founder and producer Harvey Weinstein. Including at awards ceremonies and different media platforms often by making “jokes” about his misconduct with female employees and talent.
One notable instance was at 2013 Oscars, in which when Seth MacFarlane was presenting the female nominees for best actress and stated, “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” While the room took part in awkward laughter, the presenter himself remained stoic due to the fact that one of his own close female friends had been one of Weinstein’s victims. This was just one of the many instances in the media where the subject was brought up through humor—a signal to the rest of the world, a warning.
In March of 2015, Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez filed a report to the New York Police Department against Harvey Weinstein for allegedly groping her. According to journalist Ronan Farrow, in his book Catch and Kill, the police’s reaction to Gutierrez’s claim was disappointment, not shock, since this was not the first allegation against Weinstein that they had received. The following day, the model teamed up with the NYPD and was able to record Weinstein admitting to the unlawful groping, citing that while he was “sorry,” he was also “used to that.”
Unfortunately for Gutierrez, this evidence wasn’t considered enough to incriminate him on even a misdemeanor charge. Weinstein walked free, but media outlets had already picked up on the dropped charges brought against him and news of his sexual misconduct made headlines around the world. The responses that followed suit would ultimately lead to Weinstein’s demise.
Shortly after the world caught wind of the scandal, the #MeToo movement was born, where people across the world started sharing their experiences of surviving sexual assault. In fact, several women came out to tell their own stories of how Weinstein had abused them as well. Other individuals came forward corroborating these women’s stories, but for years before kept quiet out of fear. These allegations were made from encounters that occurred as early as 1990 and would span over the next 30 years.
Over 80 women came forward, among them including actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan—whom would have significant roles in his prosecution. The New York Times was also preparing to release a story that would paint Weinstein in an unflattering light.
Catching wind that his reputation was about to take a hit that would undoubtedly land him in serious trouble, Weinstein lawyered up and hired some of the best private investigation firms to aid him in silencing those who were speaking out.
Best in The World
As multiple allegations began surfacing back to back with different women coming forward and sharing their experiences with Weinstein, he decided to hire three intelligence firms to keep his public image as a humanitarian and women’s rights advocate intact. Among these agencies were: K2 Intelligence (K2), Kroll, and Black Cube.
The first firm to be employed by Harvey Weinstein was K2. K2 (now K2 Integrity) is run by its founder Jules Kroll who in an interview with TIME magazine stated that he only worked for Weinstein for two weeks before calling it quits. The work that K2 did was that of investigating Gutierrez—digging up her past and find any information that would discredit her completely.
In order to do this, K2 hired Italian private investigators to look into the model’s life in Italy. K2 was instructed to make sure that the Manhattan District Attorney (DA) would not press charges against Weinstein. Within those two weeks, K2 acquired a file containing information on the model’s past in Italy, including public scandals and private information on her sexual history. K2 members who had previously worked for the DA passed on this information to prosecutors as part of a “revolving door culture,” as Farrow describes, between high-profile clients and pricey intelligence firms.
According to Gutierrez, she was brought in for questioning by the NYPD after she helped secure the tape recording and was interrogated by the Sex Crimes Unit where she was questioned about her past in Italy. Within a matter of weeks, Gutierrez had been completely discredited and her charges were dropped by the DA.
After K2 ceased doing business with Weinstein, he obtained the skills of Kroll, and had them pick up where the first firm left off. In Catch and Kill, Farrow details how Kroll persuaded Gutierrez to sign an NDA after they had located her brother in Italy. Believing him to be in danger, she agreed to surrender all of her electronic devices, along with divulging her passwords and giving the intelligence agency permission to search through her personal emails, texts, and social media, deleting any and all information that could incriminate Weinstein.
Gutierrez states in her interview with Farrow that a key objective for Kroll was to make sure there were no copies of Weinstein’s confession anywhere, so it would never be replicated or distributed to the public. However, the model was able to feign “loss of memory” in which she emailed herself a copy of the audio confession without Kroll’s knowledge. Farrow was able to get ahold of the recording without jeopardizing the agreement she signed with Kroll.
Black Cube, known for being ruthless in their investigation practices came into the picture after Weinstein and K2 cut ties. Weinstein hired them to silence accusers and discredit those speaking against him. Weinstein’s lawyer David Boies’s had previously worked with Black Cube on another case. After his recommendation, Boies’s firm signed a contract with Black Cube where $100,000 was wired to the investigation agency for an initial period of work.
On July 11, 2017, a letter of engagement was put in place specifying the services that Black Cube would provide for Weinstein and how Black Cube would get paid (including a retainer and settlement sum). It clearly stated two objectives, “A) Provide intelligence which will help the client’s efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper. B) Obtain additional content of a book which currently being written and includes harmful information on and about the client.” The letter of engagement also stated that if any further work needed to be done by Weinstein, Black Cube would take it into consideration.
A settlement sum of $190,000 was put into place that would begin its payments on July 10, 2017 starting with $50,000. Once the Engagement Letter was signed, $100,000 was to be paid to Black Cube and ten days after the initial signing, they would receive the last $40,000.
The contract specified that it would take Black Cube four months to achieve the objectives and if they failed to do so within that time frame, a fifth month would be worked free of charge in order to finish the job. The fees for doing such work amounted to a total of $200,000 for the two objectives.
According to the retainer, a $50,000 fee was to be paid by “The Client” in four payments. In addition to the overall fee, there was also a refundable fee to be paid to “The Journalist”, who was a subcontractor under Black Cube whose job was to specifically interview women and find out what they knew then report back to Weinstein. The sum was $40,000 for four months, and each month, “The Journalist” had to interview a total of 10 people. Any quota that was not met by the intelligence officer would be refunded to the client thereafter.
Additionally, a success fee of $300,000 was to be paid once Black Cube squashed The New York Times article and an additional $50,000 for halting the second half of McGowan’s book, BRAVE, which detailed the assault she suffered at Weinstein’s hands. Black Cube had the freedom to decide how they went about and who they utilized to complete these assignments.
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Other subcontractors, hired to help achieve the goals of the mission, were also mentioned in the Black Cube retainer. Among them was “Anna.” The retainer stated that Anna would be a full-time agent and assist Weinstein in anything he needed for the next four months. In turn, he instructed Anna to get close to McGowan. Anna, whose real name is Stella Penn Pechanac, used another alias known as Diana Filip when befriending McGowan. She assumed the role of a woman’s rights advocate based in London who worked in an investment company. Her job was to get as close as possible to McGowan and collect any intel on whether or not the actress was going to press charges against Weinstein. Her second objective with McGowan was to obtain a copy of her unpublished book. Pechanac achieved both of those goals in the time she was working for Black Cube. In addition to collecting information from McGowan, Pechanac used her first alias, Anna, to try and extract knowledge from Ben Wallace, a writer for New York Magazine.
Farrow’s book states Anna initially contacted Wallace claiming that she too was a victim of Weinstein’s and wanted to meet up to discuss her experience in hopes of helping with his investigation. While she informed Wallace of her false experiences, Farrow describes, “That she’s gone through something intimate and upsetting…but she was cagey about details.”
Seth Freedman is another individual who worked on Weinstein’s case under Black Cube. Much like Pechanac, Freedman was also tasked with discovering who was going to speak out against Weinstein—and when. Ben Wallace, Ronan Farrow, and Rose McGowan are just three of 91 people Freedman was able to reach as he collected information on Weinstein’s potential enemies.
Convincing McGowan that he was a writer for The Guardian (which he had been previously), McGowan opened up to Freedman about her experiences and her plans to break the contract she had signed with Weinstein in order to reveal what he had done to her. Eventually this information gave Weinstein the “heads up” to the allegations that were soon to be placed against him. To this day, Freedman has shown no remorse for helping Weinstein because he didn’t do anything “illegal”, and he was just doing “his job.”
Shortly after discovering that she had been tricked, McGowan filed a lawsuit against Weinstein, Black Cube, and two of Weinstein’s former lawyers for attempting to “silence” her. The lawsuit laid out McGowan’s experience with all parties involved, focusing on the deception by Black Cube’s subcontractors Pechanac and Freedman. The document alleges Pechanac stole the second half of McGowan’s book in which she reveals Weinstein to be her rapist. It also alleges, Pechanac tricked the actress into meeting her under false prentices and sharing undisclosed excerpts of BRAVE, all the while secretly recording the interaction. As was included in her job description, Pechanac went on to share these recordings and the copy of BRAVE with the defendants.
Ultimately, the case was dismissed but by then the damage had already been done to McGowan. Pleading concrete damages, the actress claims that the actions of Weinstein and Black Cube led to her being publicly discredited. At one point mentioned in the suit, Black Cube resorted to defamation of character by branding her as “crazy” when they were unsuccessful in their attempts to have her sign an NDA and monetarily settlement in return for her silence on Weinstein. By using the information they collected on the actress, McGowan claims Weinstein and his team managed to damage her reputation and credibility to the point where she has lost both personal and professional relationships as well as employment opportunities. The lawsuit goes on to state that McGowan’s mental health took a hit claiming to have, “sold her home in Hollywood to pay fees and costs associated with recovering from the trauma Defendants caused.”
In regards to attempting to discredit the actress turned activist, Weinstein was temporarily successful.
Controlling the Narrative
One of Weinstein’s big goals was to influence the media and control what they could and could not publish. Due to the large sums of monetary contributions he would make to different news sources, Weinstein was able to get almost, if not every story that depicted him in a negative light, killed—at least for a time. He was incredibly well-connected and used his influence broadly (including alleged blackmail) to control a variety of news outlets and thus successfully avoided having damaging stories printed about his reputation.
Instead, he would have them cover highlights of his upcoming films or slam campaigns on competitors’ films who were up against him during award season.
When Farrow decided to pursue a story on how the rich and powerful men in Hollywood take advantage of their stations, using Weinstein as a lead, NBC executive Noah Oppenheim ordered him to stop his investigations. In his book, Farrow reveals how Matt Lauer, former Today Show host at NBC, had sexual misconduct allegations made against him and that Weinstein was aware of this. He claims that NBC stopped all investigations into the Weinstein scandal in order to protect the show host.
Farrow went back and forth with network executive, Oppenheim, on his story until he was ultimately fired right as he was about to release his piece. Farrow then published his expose on Weinstein in October 2017 for The New Yorker instead. The reporter sought advice from others who had also tried taking a stab at investigating Weinstein, but they warned him to move, watch his back, and purchase a gun. They had been tracked by Harvey’s “Army of Spies” as is the title of Farrow’s article. Instead of assistance, they offered safekeeping advice to the journalist who would soon become a target for Black Cube.
While Farrow had been dealing with an unsupportive team at work, he was unknowingly being followed by Black Cube. They tracked his every move by finding out his geo-location whenever he used his phone and answered messages such as emails or texts, sometimes even calls the private investigators would send him. At this, he feared for his safety to the point he devised a plan in case something happened to him.
Roman Khaykin and Igor Ostrovskiy were tasked primarily with following Farrow and reporting his every move back to Weinstein, employed under Black Cube. The duo would often camp their car outside Farrow’s apartment and wait for him to exit the building to track where he was going and who he was meeting with. Farrow eventually caught on. Not long after, Ostrovskiy switched sides.
Ostrovskiy felt that he was breaking the law whilst tracking his target’s geo-location from their mobile devices without Farrow’s permission or access to do so. He contacted Farrow and came clean about his actions. Once Black Cube suspected Ostrovskiy had teamed up with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, they asked him to do a polygraph test. Because Ostrovskiy had taken this job as a subcontractor for Black Cube under his real name, he was now in danger of being found out as a double agent and at risk of becoming a target for not only Black Cube but possibly Weinstein as well. Ostrovskiy stated it wasn’t until he found a company called Whistleblower aid that he could safely separate from Black Cube and continue his work as a PI.
Ultimately, even Weinstein’s “Army of Spies” couldn’t protect him from the reputational hits and criminal charges that were headed his way. After Farrow released his article in The New Yorker, Weinstein’s stock plummeted. More and more women started coming out of the woodwork to accuse the former film mogul of sexual assault.
In February 2020, Weinstein had to face the music. He was sentenced to 23 years in New York prison and was just found guilty in a Los Angeles court of rape and sexual assault and is facing up to 24 years in prison for his Los Angeles conviction. Weinstein is currently appealing both convictions and seeking a retrial in the Los Angeles court.
Black Cube has refused to comment on the case, but the intelligence group remains active. Ostrovskiy continues to work as a private investigator, although now under his terms and strives to be on the side that uncovers the truth and positively influences the world. Kroll denounces his work for Weinstein and states he will never work with Weinstein or take on any sexual abuse claims again.
The case of Weinstein started out with women privately, then publicly, alleging that he had sexually abused them. Over the course of several years, reporters had tried to bring these allegations to life only to have their stories killed or their attempts proved futile.
The rich and powerful often use their money and influence to protect themselves, avoid criminal charges, and stay “on top.” But so often, this work is done behind the scenes. However, the Weinstein case provides one of the most public looks into what usually is a private affair. Specifically, how someone with power can wield power to surveil, manipulate, con, blackmail, and control those who stand against them by using PIs as their pawns.
Stay safe out there!
About the Author
Tabatha Villegas is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer/social media coordinator who graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, an Emphasis in Media Studies, and a minor in Theatre Arts. She has worked with San Diegoʼs TuYo Theatre Company as a social media manager, and assistant director.
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