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In early June, private investigator Herman Weisberg received a call from his UTA agent that his contract with ABC was in jeopardy thanks to his association with Harvey Weinstein. Weisberg, 52, the go-to specialist for New York’s top law firms handling white-collar crime, had recently been identified by THR as the man trailing the disgraced producer in and out of court in New York for his May 25 arrest and arraignment. His work for ABC has been a lucrative side gig; he’s appeared as an on-air sleuth on such shows as 20/20.
Weisberg’s predicament underscores the perils of providing any kind of professional service to Weinstein, who is facing first- and third-degree rape charges but convicted of nothing. For Weisberg and others, that has meant everything from death threats to lost income. The private investigator’s conundrum raises the question, “Is there ever a client too toxic to represent?”
“It makes our job more difficult,” says Weinstein’s criminal attorney Benjamin Brafman, who has repped Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Martin Shkreli. “But it’s also when we do our best work because the only thing that stands between a person who has been convicted in the media and a court conviction is a criminal defense lawyer and his or her investigators.”
Weisberg, a managing director of New York-based Sage Intelligence, would not speak directly about what he does for Weinstein, saying he’s covered by attorney-client privilege as someone working for a law firm; he insists that he works for Brafman and not Weinstein himself. It’s a crucial distinction for Weisberg, who is adamant that he not be lumped in with the more dubious P.I. efforts made on behalf of Weinstein. Those include murky Israeli outfit Black Cube, run by former Mossad agents who tried to dupe some of the producer’s alleged victims into disclosing how willing they were to go to the press. Though Weisberg, whose work involves monitoring and surveillance services and foiling extortion attempts, was dubbed a real-life Ray Donovan in a January profile in Town & Country, Brafman bristles at the idea that he’s some kind of Harvey “fixer.”
“Herman is a 20-year veteran of the NYPD and has an impeccable record of service,” says Brafman. “He has always been very careful and meticulous [about following the law].”
Still, Weinstein is so radioactive that Weisberg and Brafman have received death threats. Both have worked on tricky cases, but this one is particularly heightened; it single-handedly sparked the #MeToo movement as nearly 100 women, including A-list actresses, accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault.
Playing on Team Harvey can be a delicate proposition. Michael Sitrick, a crisis PR guru, faced heat for taking on Weinstein’s case only to part ways with him months later, likely over money (Sitrick wouldn’t confirm or deny that unpaid bills led to his departure, though a number of law firms, including Greenberg Glusker, home of Bert Fields, and David Boies’ firm, Boies Schiller, have claimed in bankruptcy court that Weinstein Co. owes them millions). Regardless, Sitrick never second-guessed repping Weinstein.
“It’s not who you are representing but how you’re representing them,” he insists. “The goal is not to win in the court of public opinion and lose in the court of law. That’s what’s important here.”
Weinstein is curently repped by Juda Engelmayer of HeraldPR. But at least one firm turned him down after an internal ethics committee decided the negative exposure wouldn’t be worth the enormous fees (Sitrick was charging $1,100 an hour, the market rate for top crisis PR gurus). “You don’t want to take on something that will inhibit your ability to attract work in the future,” says a member of that firm.
Weisberg, who has appeared on CBS as well as ABC, is hoping that his connection to Weinstein won’t cost him on-camera work with risk-averse networks grappling with their own #MeToo dramas. “It is vital that the attorneys that engage my firm [in this case, Brafman] have the facts and evidence that allow them to vigorously defend their clients,” he tells THR. “My job, simply put, is to uncover the truth.”
And though Weinstein might be facing allegations of horrific conduct, Brafman says he has found some support for the job he and Weisberg are doing.
“While we have received some nasty letters from people who are anonymous, I’ve also received a whole host of positive letters from people telling me to be proud of the work that Herman and I are doing and to tell Harvey that he is not alone and that there are a lot of people out there who are angry at the way he is being vilified,” Brafman says. “I am not defending behavior. I am defending specific allegations of criminal conduct. There’s a big difference.”
This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
June 22, 5:49 a.m. This story has been updated to clarify that Weinstein currently is repped by Juda Engelmayer of HeraldPR.
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