Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted young women in hopes of making it in Hollywood, a Los Angeles prosecutor claimed Monday, while the former producer’s lawyer said his accusers voluntarily participated in a “casting couch” culture to boost their careers .
Weinstein, the man who became the face of the #MeToo allegations five years ago, is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for sex crimes in New York. He is now indicted in Los Angeles for 11 charges of rape and sexual assault and has pleaded not guilty.
In opening statements, Deputy Prosecutor Paul Thompson offered graphic details and quotes from women who said Weinstein invited them to hotel rooms for alleged business meetings between 1991 and 2015.
“He was trying to stick his penis in my mouth,” Thompson quoted one as saying. He quoted another as saying Weinstein undressed her and fondled her breast while he masturbated. Weinstein, who sat in the courtroom in a dark suit and tie, occasionally shook his head as Thompson spoke.
Alleged incidents involving four of the women are the basis of the charges against Weinstein. The other four women, who had meetings outside of Los Angeles, will be presented by prosecutors to try to establish a pattern of behavior.
Weinstein’s attorney Mark Werksman told jurors that each allegation was a “weak and unsubstantiated stream that will disappear upon your closer examination.”
“You’ll learn that in Hollywood, sex was a commodity,” Werksman said. “It was the casting sofa. Everyone did it … because each one wanted something from someone else,” Werksman said.
Now look at him,” Werksman added. “He’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Do you think the beautiful women had sex with him because he’s hot? No. They did it because he was powerful.”
Werksman also noted that each of the women only came forward after reports of Weinstein’s behavior helped fuel the #MeToo movement of women speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and beyond.
Thompson said none of the accusers spoke publicly at the time because they worried Weinstein “could crush their careers.” He showed the jury movie posters of “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love” and other Weinstein productions.
“At this point, this was the most powerful person in the business,” Thompson quoted one of the women as saying. Another said, “He was king.”
Weinstein, 70, was convicted of sexual misconduct in New York in February 2020. He was extradited from New York to a Los Angeles prison in July 2021.
In New York, Weinstein is appealing his conviction and 23-year prison sentence. He faces up to 140 years in prison if convicted of all the charges in Los Angeles.