Actress Asia Argento on Tuesday denied allegations that she sexually assaulted an actor when he was 17 but acknowledged that a settlement was paid to him to avoid a public spectacle.
“I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with [Jimmy] Bennett,” Argento said in a statement to the Guardian newspaper and the Huffington Post, calling the story “false allegations.”
Argento was responding to an article published by the New York Times that said she had sex with and performed a sex act on Bennett at a Marina del Rey hotel in November 2013, when he was 17. The story, which was based on leaked documents, said that Argento paid Bennett $380,000 for photos of them together in the room. That sum was paid after Bennett’s lawyer filed a notice of intent to sue.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is now investigating the allegation of sex with a minor. Sheriff’s officials said that although they had not received a report on the alleged incident, they were pursuing the matter by trying to interview the people involved.
Argento wrote that Bennett made the claims after she made her own allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein last year. Argento accused the movie mogul of raping her in 1997. Weinstein has denied the allegation.
“Subsequent to my exposure in the Weinstein case, Bennett — who was then undergoing severe economic problems and who had previously undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages — unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me,” she said.
Argento said her partner — television personality Anthony Bourdain, who died in June — had pushed for the settlement.
“Bennett knew my boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect. Anthony insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted. Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us,” Argento said.
“We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.”
Argento said the settlement and its exposure were the latest event “in a long-standing persecution.”
The allegations of a sexual assault and the payment are laid out in documents between lawyers for Argento and Bennett that the New York Times received through encrypted email from an unknown source. The newspaper cited three unnamed sources as having confirmed the authenticity of documents.
The New York Times report said Bennett’s letter of intent to sue laid out his account of the encounter: He arrived at the hotel with a family member and Argento asked the family member to leave. When they were alone, she kissed him, removed his pants and performed oral sex, and then had sex with him, the document stated, according to the newspaper.
The newspaper reported that the settlement, paid in installments, secured the copyright for photos Bennett took during the alleged incident.
On the day of the alleged incident, Argento herself posted a photo on Instagram showing her hugging Bennett, referring to him as “My son, my love,” and included the month and year.
Argento emerged as a powerful figure in the #MeToo movement last fall after telling the New Yorker that during the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Weinstein invited her to his hotel, came out in a bathrobe and sexually assaulted her. At this year’s festival, she delivered a bold speech about the experience.
Bennett’s attorney Gordon Sattro said in a statement that his client does not yet have a comment on the reported allegation.
“Jimmy is going to take the next 24 hours or longer to prepare his response,” Sattro said.
Bennett was captured by photographers on the balcony of his apartment Monday wearing a T-shirt with an expletive suggesting he wants to be left alone.