It started with an anonymous letter.
Fourteen years ago, Stephen Collins‘ wife, Faye Grant, received an unsigned note. It claimed Collins had been “sexually inappropriate” with the author when she was about 11 years old, sources close to the couple tell The Hollywood Reporter. The letter was intended as a warning: Collins and Grant had a daughter who was 11 at the time.
Enraged, Grant confronted Collins. He responded that in the ’80s, the trend was to wear “baggy” or “holey” jeans, and that he must have not been wearing underwear, so that the girl may have “seen my junk,” a source close to Grant says. A source close to Collins denies he ever used those words.
At the time, Collins had been starring as the Rev. Eric Camden in the long-running family drama 7th Heaven. Offscreen, he served as a eucharistic lay minister at St. Matthews Episcopal church in Pacific Palisades, where he served communion. The parish priest, Rev. David Miller, vouched for Collins and lobbied for Grant to take him back. The couple stayed together for 12 more years. (Miller is no longer the rector, but declined comment through the church office.)
But in 2012, Collins told his wife that he had been leading a secret life, cheating throughout their marriage. Even more shocking: He confessed to sexual contact in the past with three underage girls, says a source close to Grant. The couple entered therapy, and Grant secretly taped a session in which Collins explained how he exposed himself and had sexual contact with at least one of the girls, aged 11 to 13. Collins and Grant separated on Feb. 1, 2012; Collins filed for divorce on May 7 of that year.
Two years later, on Oct. 7, Grant’s surreptitious recording ricocheted around the Internet, propelled by TMZ. Collins can be heard confessing to exposing himself or molesting the pre-teenage girls. “There was one moment of touching where her hand, I put her hand on my penis,” he says on the recording.
Collins’ attorneys in effect authenticated the audio when they fired back at Grant, accusing her of leaking the tape only after using the recording to try to extort a larger divorce settlement. Grant’s camp vehemently denies that she leaked it. In fact, attorney Marty Singer fired back a cease-and-desist letter threatening to sue Collins’ divorce lawyer, Mark Vincent Kaplan, if he continued to say Grant had leaked the tape. The letter also stated that Grant had handed the recording to both the New York Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department in 2012.
To date, three separate law enforcement agencies have looked into the child abuse claims. The NYPD investigation remains open, amid pressure from the first victim’s husband, sources say. In 2012, the LAPD opened and closed an investigation; no crime report was filed and no victim was ever confirmed, according to officials. However, they say they are reviewing the tapes to make sure nothing was missed. Then on Oct. 9 of this year, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department announced it was investigating an incident with a 13-year old victim from the summer of 1983.
Whether Collins will ever be charged with a crime is up for debate. In New York, the statute of limitations for prosecuting a sex crime involving a minor expires five years after the victim’s 18th birthday; the victims mentioned in the recording would be at least in their 40s today. If the crimes involved a first-degree rape or sexual attack, however, there are no time limits. One law enforcement source told THR there can be an exception made for a suppressed memory, and the clock starts running from the time the memory is “unsuppressed.” In California, the statute for lewd and lascivious acts on a child maxes out at 10 years after the crime has been committed.
However, TMZ claims an incident with another underage girl may have happened as recently as 2007. A source close to Grant said he did not know about the incident, and a source close to Collins called the report “absolutely untrue.” NYPD, the lead agency investigating Collins, declined comment.
Now in its 30th month, the divorce is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 12, with at least $12 million in assets at stake. But legal fees on both sides are approaching $1 million as the scandal careens further into the public on a daily basis. Despite allegations to the contrary, sources close to the couple say it would have made no sense for Grant to leak the tape because it hurts her financially.
In fact, Collins was swiftly dropped from his agency, APA. Repeats of 7th Heaven were yanked off two networks, and he was fired from Ted 2 and Scandal. In addition, Lifetime told THR it will not air his eerie 1996 flick The Babysitter’s Seduction, and an 11-minute short film called Penance, in which Collins plays a child-molesting priest, has been yanked from the indie festival circuit. Even if the TV reverend escapes criminal charges, civil suits still loom on the horizon — and his career already seems to be finished.