Harvey Weinstein cover-up was racketeering, women claim in federal lawsuit

Harvey Weinstein kicks off the Film Finance Circle conference with an informal discussion at the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Oct. 15, 2007.

Reuters/Steve Crisp

NEW YORK -- Six women filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein on Wednesday, claiming that the movie mogul's actions to cover up assaults amounted to civil racketeering. The lawsuit was filed at a federal court in New York seeking to represent a class of "dozens, if not hundreds" of women who say they were assaulted by Weinstein.

The lawsuit claims that a coalition of companies and people became part of the growing "Weinstein Sexual Enterprise" and that they worked with Weinstein to conceal his widespread sexual harassment and assaults.

"The Weinstein Sexual Enterprise had many participants, grew over time as the obfuscation of Weinstein's conduct became more difficult to conceal," the suit said.

A lawyer for Weinstein declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes after a New York Times report on Tuesday revealed the network of people who helped Weinstein cover up his alleged sexual misconduct.

Over a period of decades in showbusiness, Weinstein built a network of what the Times calls "enablers, silencers and spies," CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan reports.

"One of the big questions we're asking is who knew and who failed to stop this behavior?" said CBS News contributor Jodi Kantor, who co-wrote the story.

The Times reports how "agents and managers across Hollywood ... sent actresses to meet him alone at hotels and advised them to stay quiet when things went wrong."

Kantor said Weinstein built a "complicity machine" to get what he wanted.

"He drafted and tainted other people, some of whom knew what was going on, some of whom didn't," Kantor said.

On Tuesday night, CBS News received a statement from Weinstein attorneys Blair Berk and Ben Brafman, which says in part, "Weinstein has never at any time committed an act of sexual assault, and it is wrong and irresponsible to conflate claims of impolitic behavior or consensual sexual contact later regretted, with an untrue claim of criminal conduct."

It's the most to come from Weinstein's camp in a while. Initially, they repeatedly said, "Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied."

According to the lawsuit, actresses and other women in the film industry were lured to industry events, hotel rooms, Weinstein's home, office meetings or auditions under the pretense that they were to discuss a project.

Plaintiffs included the scriptwriter and actress Louisette Geiss and the actresses Katherine Kendall, Zoe Brock, Sarah Ann Thomas, Melissa Sagemiller and Nanette Klatt.

All of the women have told their stories publicly.

At least 75 women have come forward in the media to detail accounts of assault, harassment and inappropriate conduct by Weinstein. No charges have been filed.

Weinstein, 65, is being investigated by police in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, New York and London.

Weinstein was ousted from the movie company he founded following a barrage of sexual harassment allegations that began with a bombshell New York Times article in early October. Since then, numerous prominent men in entertainment, business and politics and the media have been hit with allegations of improper behavior with women.