9:02am PT by Ashley Cullins
Kanye West Collaborator Malik Yusef Sued by Korean Fashion Brand Over Alleged Sham Deal
Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster is suing frequent Kanye West collaborator Malik Yusef for allegedly forging West's signature on several contracts, as well as faking invoices from companies including Roc Nation, as part of a multi-million-dollar scam.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in L.A. County Superior Court, Gentle Monster — which has Hollywood fans including Beyonce, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Lupita Nyong'o, Brie Larson and Tilda Swinton — claims Yusef leveraged his relationship with West to trick the company into thinking he was procuring top talent for a video series for the brand.
"From their earliest interactions with Gentle Monster, defendants went out of their way to describe Yusef’s star-studded connections," writes attorney Susan Leader of Akin Gump in the complaint. "They never missed an opportunity to mention that Yusef routinely works with artists like Beyoncé and Kanye, that he tours with Jay–Z, or that he vacations with Pharrell Williams."
Gentle Monster claims it was tricked into engaging Yusef to work on its Project 13 and wiring more than $2.5 million to him and his associates. The company believed it was contracting with Yusef so he would bring in artists like West, Williams, Jaden Smith and Paris Jackson to promote its new line of sunglasses. Gentle Monster required that either West or Williams provide written confirmation that they would participate, and the defendants gave them a document that appeared to be signed by West.
"Defendants’ deception was both flagrant and brazen," writes Leader in the complaint, which is posted below. "Specifically, they forged Kanye’s signature, created a shell entity named after Kanye’s deceased mother, issued fraudulent invoices made to appear as though they had been issued by legitimate talent agencies, lied about their contacts and work with artists, and, in the end, pocketed more than $2.5 million from Gentle Monster."
Gentle Monster also claims Yusef convinced the company that the only way to stay within its budget for Project 13 was to bypass agents and let him negotiate directly with talent.
West met with Gentle Monster U.S. CEO Won Lee in Jackson Hole, during which they had a "high level" discussion about themes the brand wanted to incorporate into its campaign but Project 13 was never discussed. Lee felt no urgency to discuss logistics because he understood more meetings would follow, according to the complaint, but he never met with him again.
After the meeting, Yusef gave Lee a notarized Universal Music Publishing Group song agreement authorizing the release of a song called "New Angels" — along with a copy of West's driver's license. Gentle Monster also claims Yusef said West wanted to design a line of sunglasses for the brand, and they entered into a separate deal. The company wired an upfront payment of $500,000 to a company called Donda Social Agency, Inc., which was purportedly West's charity named after his late mother.
For the Project 13 campaign Yusef was supposed to produce four videos by Dec. 25, according to the complaint, but only gave Gentle Monster the first one a few hours before it was set to release on Feb. 14. The credits mentioned West and Williams, but there "was no indication from viewing the video that either artist was substantively involved in any way." (Rapper Vic Mensa and The Wire actor Michael K. Williams appeared in the video.)
The company was "stunned" to find out that West hadn't been involved, thanks to a tweet from his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and removed the video from its platforms after receiving a threat letter from West's legal team.
Gentle Monster is suing Yusef, along with his manager and business partner Burundi Partlow and Sonja Nutall, who had been a friend of Lee and introduced him to Yusef. The claims include fraud, breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and unfair competition.
Earlier this year, German designer Philipp Plein claimed it was scammed into paying $900,000 for a Kanye West performance during New York Fashion Week that the rapper wasn't aware of. That situation also allegedly involved a forged signature and fake charity.