The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Monday that detectives are reaching out to a young actor and his attorney after the New York Times reported actress and director Asia Argento recently paid him in connection with an alleged sexual encounter in a Marina del Rey hotel room when he was 17.
Sheriff’s Capt. Darren Harris said the department had not received a report on the alleged incident but was pursuing the matter by trying to interview the parties involved.
The New York Times said Argento, 42, settled a notice of intent to sue from Jimmy Bennett, who in 2004 played her son in a film, for $380,000 in the months after she publicly accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexually assaulting her. In California, the age of consent is 18. Bennett is now 22.
A source with knowledge of the deal confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that there was a negotiated settlement with Bennett after he leveled the claims against her last year.
Two lawyers who represent Argento have not returned phone calls or emails seeking comment.
According to the New York Times, the allegation of a sexual assault and the payment agreement that followed are laid out in documents between lawyers for Argento and Bennett that the newspaper received through encrypted email from an unknown source. The New York Times report did not state that Argento admitted any wrongdoing. The newspaper cited three unnamed sources as confirming the authenticity of the documents.
On May 9, 2013, Argento and Bennett met for a reunion at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey. The pair have referred to each other as mother and son on social media. Argento posted a photo on that day showing her hugging Bennett, referring to him as “My son my love,” and included the month and year.
The New York Times report said Bennett’s letter of intent to sue laid out his account of the encounter: Bennett arrived at the hotel with a family member, and Argento asked the family member to leave. When they were alone, she kissed the 17-year-old, removed his pants and performed oral sex, and then had sex with him, the document said, according to the newspaper.
Argento became a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement after telling the New Yorker that Weinstein raped her in 1997 when she was 21. Weinstein faces multiple charges of sexual assault and rape, but none of the charges involve Argento’s allegation.
Argento was in a relationship with celebrity chef, author and TV host Anthony Bourdain, who helped her navigate the matter, the New York Times reported. Bourdain killed himself in June.
Bennett’s attorney Gordon Sattro issued a statement Monday addressing the allegations.
“At this time, our client, Jimmy Bennett, does not wish to comment on the documents or the events discussed in the New York Times article yesterday evening,” he said. “While we realize that the news cycle demands an immediate response, many times, people need more than a few minutes or hours to respond. We are asking that you give our client some time and space. Jimmy is going to take the next 24 hours, or longer, to prepare his response. We ask that you respect our client’s privacy during this time.”
Actress Rose McGowan, a leader of the #MeToo movement, said on Twitter on Monday: “I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago. Our commonality is the shared pain of being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. My heart is broken. I will continue my work on behalf of victims everywhere.”
McGowan was among a roster of celebrities who signed an open letter that appeared in the Los Angeles Times after Bourdain’s death. The letter praised Bourdain’s advocacy for victims of sexual harassment and assault and also addressed Argento’s high-profile role in the #MeToo movement.
“One of the most vocal and unwavering figures in the #MeToo movement has been Asia Argento. At the center of our community, Asia has stood, her fist in the air, fighting daily not just for justice for those of us she has come to know, but for abused people the world over,” the letter said.
“Asia has now found herself on the receiving end of vicious cyberbullying and repulsive slander at the hands of internet trolls who hold her responsible for Anthony’s death. She has been accused of everything from causing her boyfriend’s suicide to trying to use her ‘survivor status’ and the #MeToo movement to advance her career.”
An attorney for Weinstein released a statement accusing Argento of “a stunning level of hypocrisy.”
"The sheer duplicity of her conduct is quite extraordinary and should demonstrate to everyone how poorly the allegations against Mr. Weinstein were actually vetted and accordingly, cause all of us to pause and allow due process to prevail, not condemnation by fundamental dishonesty,” the statement said.