How a Lebanese-American lawyer helped take down Harvey Weinstein

Questionable financial move put Tom Ajamie on trail of Weinstein, now a convicted sex offender

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A Los Angeles jury on Monday is set to begin hearing evidence in a sexual assault and rape case against disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who is already serving 23 years in prison following a 2020 conviction.

It took dozens upon dozens of women coming forward, the #MeToo feminist movement and a jury in New York in the previous case to ultimately put Weinstein behind bars, but it was a Hollywood outsider who gave the initial push that led to his downward spiral.

When Houston lawyer Tom Ajamie got a call in 2016 from board members of the Foundation for Aids Research (amfAR) asking him to perform an internal investigation into a questionable financial transaction involving Weinstein it was just another day, another missing dollar — or so he thought.

Meet the Lebanese-American lawyer who helped bring down Harvey Weinstein

Meet the Lebanese-American lawyer who helped bring down Harvey Weinstein

“I thought I would maybe do 10 or 20 interviews, fly around a little bit, get some bank records, say 'this is what happened' and put together a report,” Mr Ajamie said in an exclusive interview with The National.

At the time, Weinstein was a major force in the film industry, with producing credits such as Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love and The English Patient — although there had always been whispers of the mogul's inappropriate and abusive behaviour towards women within the ranks of Hollywood.

“I didn't know anything really about Harvey Weinstein,” said Mr Ajamie, whose grandfather emigrated to the US from Lebanon. “I knew the independent films he'd come out with … but I knew nothing about the man.”

The money in question involved “some secret deal” with Weinstein and board member Kenneth Cole, according to Mr Ajamie, which stipulated that if a certain amount of money was raised by auction items brokered by Weinstein at the charity's 2015 gala, $600,000 would be funnelled off and donated to the American Repertory Theatre (ART) at Harvard University.

Mr Cole did not respond to several requests for comment.

But what had started as a relatively simple $600,000 question soon snowballed into something much more sinister.

Even though Mr Ajamie never asked the people he questioned about physical misconduct, an overwhelming number started to volunteer incriminating evidence.

“The first words out of just virtually 80 per cent of people, almost everyone … was 'Harvey's bad news, Harvey's a thug, you know, Harvey's a bully'," said Mr Ajamie.

Mr Ajamie said that word about his investigation quickly spread and eventually people started asking him to help Weinstein's victims.

“Someone said they knew three women who had been raped and needed help. I just kept hearing the words bully, bad guy, liar, rapist, sexual predator,” said Mr Ajamie. “Suddenly dozens of women want to talk to [me].”

Weinstein's 2020 conviction saw him sentenced to prison for sexually assaulting a former production assistant in 2006 and raping a one-time aspiring actress in 2013.

Once Weinstein got wind that Mr Ajamie had been investigating him, he began to accuse Mr Ajamie of creating a smear campaign.

Even members of the amfAR board accused him of ruining their relationship with someone who had been a cash cow, Mr Ajamie said. Others warned him to tread lightly.

“Some said 'be really careful, because he is a bully … he sues everyone,” Mr Ajamie said.

“He gets mad, he's punched people, he threw a reporter downstairs one time — the fellow still has physical disabilities from that. He's beaten up his own brother.”

Mr Ajamie wrote his internal report and included the statements made regarding Weinstein's sexual violence.

Weinstein then threatened to sue the amfAR board, claiming that everything was a lie and that Mr Ajamie was "trying to ruin his sterling reputation". The board members who had supported Mr Ajamie efforts found that they, too, would encounter Weinstein's wrath.

"We were giving him [Weinstein] an award at the 2015 event, too, so there was a general expectation for him to help sell some tables and I don't even remember that happening," Dr Mervyn Silverman told The National.

Dr Silverman has sat on the board of amfAR for almost every year since it began and was its president for 10 years.

He recalled that he and three other board members who supported Mr Ajamie's investigation were asked by Weinstein's attorney to sign a non-disclosure agreement and also accused of launching a smear campaign.

"I told them right away that there was no way I would sign anything," he said.

After Mr Ajamie's months-long report was concluded, he had a face-to-face encounter with Weinstein at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in 2017.

“He began screaming at me, ‘You’re telling everyone I rape women. You’re causing problems for me. I have a very good reputation. And you’re the source of all these rumours’,” Mr Ajamie said. "‘I slept with dozens and dozens of women, and you know they all won Academy Awards’, like that justified it.”

In the middle of the rant, Weinstein insisted that Mr Ajamie sign a non-disclosure agreement, produced by his lawyer David Boies. Mr Ajamie, who said he had been kept in this “meeting” for two hours, refused and said: “I have zero obligations to you.”

Weinstein then insisted that Mr Ajamie retract everything in his internal report to amfAR and to “hush”. That is when Mr Ajamie made for the door.

“He runs over, gets in my face, not in a threatening way, and then hugs me and says in desperation, 'Come on, man. Please just help me. Don't be like this. Stop. I need help … let's just talk',” said Mr Ajamie.

He then followed Mr Ajamie to the elevators but wouldn't enter the lift with him.

“As the doors were closing, he just — the face fell,” said Mr Ajamie. “And it was clear to me, clear as day, the next time I was going to see Harvey was in a courtroom.”

Mr Ajamie said that after that encounter, he was under siege and alone for about a year.

“Literally alone, like no one else, like, no one was supporting me,” he said.

Meanwhile, two New York Times reporters, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, had not only gotten wind of Mr Ajamie's investigation, but of the multiple allegations of Weinstein's sexual misconduct. They reached out to Mr Ajamie in what is now a historic phone call.

"I told them what I could tell them ... there's some certain things I couldn't tell them, attorney-client confidential. But I told them enough," said Mr Ajamie.

And then came the #MeToo avalanche.

“So the rest is history, right?”

In 2017, dozens of women began to come forward, accusing Weinstein of rape or other sexual misconduct. Actresses including Alyssa Milano, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale claimed the producer had touched them inappropriately, made suggestive remarks or forced them into sexual situations.

In the trial starting on Monday, Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to four counts of rape and seven other counts of sexual assault in the Beverly Hills and Los Angeles area between 2004 and 2013. He also faces sexual assault charges in London.

The #MeToo movement, which encouraged people to speak out about abuse, led to the downfall of several major Hollywood players, including actor Danny Masterson as well as screenwriter Paul Haggis, all of whom are on trial facing sexual misconduct allegations.

Updated: October 26, 2022, 7:43 PM