Bryan Singer Sex Abuse Case: The Troubling History Behind the Accusations
In 1999, the upstart Digital Entertainment Network brought together a group of men whose actions would be at the center of a scandalous lawsuit 15 years later.
This story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The wild parties were hardly a secret. During the mid- to late 1990s, as the Internet bubble was inflating, a wide swath of gay Hollywood flocked to the 12,616-square-foot Encino mansion that 40-something Marc Collins-Rector shared with Chad Shackley, a Michigan man in his mid-20s who had lived with Collins-Rector since dropping out of high school at 16; and Brock Pierce, a teenage actor who had appeared in Disney's The Mighty Ducks movies.
Anticipating the day that programming would be delivered online, Collins-Rector was an early Internet mogul with money to spend. Having changed his name from Mark Rector to Marc Collins-Rector, he favored Armani suits and drove a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. With his two younger associates, he founded Digital Entertainment Network, and heavyweights from former Warner Bros. co-chairman Terry Semel to former congressman Michael Huffington, as well as Microsoft and Dell, wanted a piece of his company.
Also among the investors reportedly were A-list director Bryan Singer; veteran television executive Garth Ancier; former Disney executive David Neuman, who worked for Collins-Rector's company; and producer Gary Goddard. Now, 15 years later, a man named Michael Egan III has filed civil suits accusing those four of misconduct that could supply material for an especially lurid episode of Law & Order: SVU. Specifically, Egan alleges that Singer, Ancier, Neuman and Goddard drugged him and forced him into sex at parties in Encino and Hawaii -- starting when Egan was only 15.
All have denied the allegations vehemently, with Singer calling them "outrageous, vicious and completely false." Singer denies he was in Hawaii at the time the alleged assaults occurred, and Ancier says he "never so much as set foot on the estate in Hawaii." The alleged events in Hawaii are key to Egan's cases because of that state's favorable statute of limitations: It seems clear the defendants hope to get the cases dismissed by establishing they were not present when the alleged acts occurred.
So far, no witnesses have come forward to corroborate Egan's accusations regarding any of the four. But the idea that underage boys were drugged and raped at the Encino estate, and sometimes threatened with guns by Collins-Rector, is hardly new. Egan was one of several young men to make such allegations in lawsuits filed against Collins-Rector, Shackley and Pierce 14 years ago -- court cases in which the plaintiffs won $4.5 million from Collins-Rector and Shackley by default because the trio had fled the country (Pierce reached a settlement). Egan and other plaintiffs also named several John Does but did not include Singer or the others he now is accusing. His attorney has declined to explain why.
By far the most high-profile of the four defendants is Singer, 48, whose enviable career began with the 1995 breakthrough film The Usual Suspects, for which Kevin Spacey won his first Oscar, and has continued through the X-Men franchise. Singer is one of only a few A-list directors with a true fanboy following and a proven box-office track record. The first two X-Men movies combined to gross more than $700 million worldwide. Now, thanks to unwanted attention brought by the Egan lawsuit, Singer has withdrawn from media events for X-Men: Days of Future Past, set for release May 23, saying in a statement that he does not want to be a distraction.
Singer long has been known to have an affinity for a certain type of man. "Bryan's always had a reputation of being with guys that look young," says a high-level studio executive who oversaw one of the director's big comic-book movies. "Whether they were underage or not, I have no idea. [But] for 20 years he's had young guys around him, whether they're assistants or friends. However they were described to you, they were always around."
But as several industry observers note, Singer is hardly the only Hollywood figure, gay or straight, with wealth, power and an eye for pretty young things. "Come on -- that's a time-honored tradition in this town," says a producer long acquainted with Singer. He adds that the allegations are nearly impossible to believe, saying, "I've only seen a very gentle side of Bryan."
According to Singer's attorney, Martin Singer (no relation), his client consistently has been careful to avoid entanglements with underage partners. "Any time Bryan has a party, he makes certain and is very careful that there is a strict guest list," Martin Singer tells THR. "He checks IDs, no minors are drinking, and there are off-duty cops as security."
What is undeniable is the stench that arose from the long-ago parties in Encino. In suits filed against Collins-Rector, Shackley and Pierce in 2000, Egan and several other young men alleged they were "sexually and physically abused," "forced … through coercion or subversion to consume controlled substances and/or prescription drugs" and "threatened with physical injury and economic harm." They cited a list of drugs allegedly pushed on them, including "Valium, Vicodin, Xanax, Percocet, marijuana, hashish, Ecstasy and Rufinol" -- the date-rape drug.
It is unclear exactly how Singer first made contact with Collins-Rector, but many in Hollywood and beyond clamored to do business with his Digital Entertainment Network. "He made a big splash because he had lots of money and was willing to spend it," says a former DEN executive. "He was also in the right place at the right time with the right idea. Companies with worse ideas were going to IPO left and right and generating enormous sums of money for investors."
It seemed no one, including some who worked with him closely, quite knew where Collins-Rector came from or his real age. But he had tech cred and money from a company called Concentric Research that he founded in 1991. Based in Bay City, Mich., it allowed computer users to avoid long-distance charges when dialing electronic bulletin boards -- precursors to online chat rooms.
It was through such a bulletin board that Collins-Rector befriended high school student Shackley, who dropped out to move in with Collins-Rector and join his company. Still, Collins-Rector continued to connect with boys on bulletin boards, including a 13-year-old from New Jersey who later said he was hired in customer service at Concentric and flown by Collins-Rector to Michigan and California.
In 1995, Collins-Rector and Shackley made millions from selling a controlling interest in the company. Two years later, they settled in the Encino house, which they bought for $2.5 million. DEN raised money and began to hire executives, compensating them lavishly. At 17, Pierce was making $250,000 a year. Neuman left Disney to become DEN's president, with a salary of $1.5 million. Gary Gersh and John Silva were brought in to start a record label, each making $600,000 a year.
It was too early, during the late '90s, to deliver online entertainment to a global audience; only about 2 percent of U.S. households had high-speed Internet. But investors swarmed to DEN, and at its height the company had 300 employees and offices in Santa Monica, Marina del Rey and West Los Angeles.
DEN programming never amounted to much, but one especially personal pilot was titled Chad's World -- written by Collins-Rector and produced by Pierce. Shot amateurishly at the Encino estate and featuring a young actor who later sued DEN, it tells the tale of a teen saved from his dreary world in Michigan by a gay couple who take him to live in their mansion. Other programming was eclectic and aimed at young demographic groups, including Christian youth.
Sometime after making his 1998 film Apt Pupil, Singer pitched a superhero project to DEN. There had been a burst of bad publicity during the making of Apt Pupil, a thriller about a high school student who discovers a fugitive Nazi war criminal in his neighborhood. During filming, suits were filed on behalf of underage extras alleging that Singer had required them to strip naked for hours while he shot a shower scene. Screenwriter Brandon Boyce called it "an absolute smear job" and "an attempt to blackmail people based on their sexuality."
The Los Angeles District Attorney's office found no evidence of wrongdoing, and the civil cases were dismissed.
Singer at times has been known to be troubled: Executives who have worked on his movies say the director was sometimes erratic, often complaining he was in pain, at times appearing "heavily medicated" and sometimes failing to appear on set. But it seems only on Singer's 2006 Warner Bros. film Superman Returns did these issues contribute to budget overages. There were widespread rumors that Singer's partying was part of the problem, but a friend who visited the set says that was not the issue. "There were times that production was interrupted or delayed," says this person, but the problem was Singer "battling his own demons" with respect to medication.
Attorney Singer says his client "had back pain and neck surgery," which explains him seeming medicated. "He took medication for back pain."
Chris Lee, a former top Columbia TriStar executive who had overseen Apt Pupil and had a reputation for being able to soothe Singer, was an executive producer on Superman Returns and was dispatched to the set in Australia to get the director on track. "Chris wasn't able to do with Bryan what we'd thought he'd be able to do," says an executive involved with the film. "We needed someone who would be able to control and guide Bryan a little better." Lee, recently appointed to a major new job as president of China Railsmedia Group (soon to be renamed China National Culture Group), could not be reached for comment.
Singer's pitch to DEN went nowhere, but by then he already was on to the first X-Men (in which his friend Goddard is credited as Man at Beach). Meanwhile, DEN also appeared on the rise. By June 1999, the company was positioning itself to go public. But within a few short months, all thoughts of an IPO were in the past.
In May 1999, the boy from New Jersey who had met Collins-Rector at 13 had sued in federal court in New Jersey, alleging that Collins-Rector sexually abused him from 1993 to 1996. Denying the allegations, Collins-Rector settled for an undisclosed sum, arguing through his attorney that he was paying only because he wanted to avoid controversy before the IPO.
But he left DEN along with Shackley and Pierce, stating through their attorney that they had planned to go regardless of the lawsuit. The company's new chairman denied that, saying the allegations in the suit were "inconsistent with a company aimed at 14- to 24-year-olds." Attorney Ronald Palmieri, representing the DEN trio, said nothing improper went on at the Encino house. Top DEN executives, including Neuman, subsequently told the Los Angeles Times in 2000 that they knew of no abuse by Collins-Rector and did not concern themselves with his private life. Soon, DEN went bankrupt.
Collins-Rector, Shackley and Pierce launched another company called World Wide Technology & Internet Ventures Ltd., incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Still living at the Encino mansion, they were joined by new housemate and partner Alex Burton, an 18-year-old actor who was a friend of Pierce.
But more and more boys came forward, alleging abuse.
In 2000, Egan and other plaintiffs sued the three DEN principals as well as their company and other John Doe defendants. According to a harrowing account in now-defunct Radar magazine, a plaintiff named as Mike E. claimed he was sexually assaulted by Collins-Rector, Shackley and Pierce while under the influence of drugs given to him without his knowledge. The account adds that another alleged victim, Daniel, was said to have written a suicide note reading in part: "I can't go on. I let them use me as a sex tool." (The note was discovered before a suicide attempt could be made.)
Another alleged victim was said to have made similar allegations and shot a video to document the house's copious drug supply: a bag filled with Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, marijuana and Ecstasy. There also were accusations that Collins-Rector would intimidate his victims by brandishing a gun. "Do you know what I can do with this," he would say, leveling the barrel at them, "and get away with it?"
After a New Jersey grand jury indicted Collins-Rector in 2000, he fled the country, along with Shackley and Pierce. The trio surfaced in May 2002 in a villa in the south Spanish beach city of Marbella. Police found guns, machetes and child pornography in the house.
Pierce and Shackley were held for about a month then released. Collins-Rector spent a couple of years in jail in Spain, resisting extradition. In 2004, he was returned to the U.S.; he struck a plea bargain and spent brief additional time in prison. He emerged as a registered sex offender under weekly supervision. In 2006, he was granted emergency permission to leave the country to be treated for a brain tumor. Collins-Rector relocated to London, where in October 2007 the British paper The Sun ran a photograph of him in a tan blazer, leaning on a cane, accompanied by a young man. "A millionaire pedophile from America is swanning around Britain in a chauffeur-driven limo and surrounding himself with young boys," the article reported.
In 2007, his attorney filed a request to terminate his supervision, writing that "life-changing medical events he has experienced have profoundly affected him and augur well for the success of his rehabilitation." The U.S. Attorney's office responded that Collins-Rector was attempting to circumvent British immigration law by forming a civil union with his assistant, who had just turned 18. His last known whereabouts are from 2008, when Florida authorities had him residing in the Dominican Republic. THR's efforts to locate him were unsuccessful, as were efforts to reach Pierce and Shackley.
In Radar's 2008 article about DEN, its investigation suggested Pierce was fronting for Collins-Rector through a Hong Kong-based company, Internet Gaming Entertainment, that sold broadswords, battle axes and other assets to fans of such online games as EverQuest and World of Warcraft. The company initially listed an address in Marbella, and papers for incorporation in the U.S. were filed by Collins-Rector's brother as well as a former business partner, attorney Randy Maslow (a vp at the gaming company). Attempts to reach Maslow and IGE were unsuccessful.
Pierce's most recent bio says he is co-founder of GoCoin, ExpressCoin, KnCMiner.cn and Robocoin Asia. He is described as "a sought-after commentator on the Bitcoin economy" and "a prolific angel investor" who has raised more than $200 million on behalf of his companies and led more than 30 acquisitions during his career.
What seems remarkable, in retrospect, is that all of the charges against Pierce's former partner, Collins-Rector, were filed by federal authorities; despite many allegations regarding activities at the Encino house, officials in L.A. never pursued criminal charges against Collins-Rector or his associates. Egan's mother, Bonnie Mound, alleged during an April 21 news conference that her attempts to report her son's abuse to the FBI had fallen on deaf ears. In fact, a 2003 affidavit filed by Special Agent Joseph Brine and obtained by TMZ stated that Egan had brought allegations against Collins-Rector to Brine's attention.
During the April 21 news conference, Egan's sobbing mother called out several FBI officials by name: "I'd like to say to Special Agent Joseph Brine: You came to our house once. You interviewed Mike once. You called me a couple times after. I continued to call you. I continued to write certified, return-receipt letters to you. Everything went silent. What did you do then, Mr. Brine? I'd also like to say to Mr. J. Stephen Tidwell, FBI Los Angeles: Why'd you ignore my certified, return-receipt letters? Mr. David Johnson, FBI, J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.: Why did you ignore my certified, return-receipt letters? And Mr. Robert Mueller III, Director of FBI, J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.: Why did you ignore my certified, return-receipt letters?"
In response to an inquiry from THR, the FBI said it "takes seriously allegations involving the sexual abuse of minors. The suggestion that the FBI ignored evidence concerning the sexual victimization of a minor is completely without merit." The Los Angeles Police Department said the FBI was the lead agency investigating in 2000 but declined further comment.
So far, attorneys for Singer and the other defendants say their clients have not been served with the lawsuits against them. Attorney Singer suggested that Egan's attorney, Jeff Herman, "is not looking to litigate the case on its merits" but rather "seeking to get his 15 minutes of fame by sending out a press release." In his statement, Bryan Singer said ultimately, "the facts will show this to be the sick, twisted shakedown it is."
But Herman says he is in the process of serving the defendants -- and he has threatened more suits. "It's not a shakedown," he says. "My client wants to protect kids in the future and expose what's going on. He didn't want to resolve this [by settling]. He wanted to bring light to what's going on and bring this in a public forum."
Chris Gardner contributed to this report.