How a Neighbors’ Feud in Paradise Launched an International Rape Case

1 BUSINESS

Business News - Opportunities - Reviews

 

 

The Bahamian pleasure palace featured a faux Mayan temple, sculptures of smoke-breathing snakes and a disco with a stripper pole. The owner, Peter Nygard, a Canadian fashion executive, showed off his estate on TV shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and threw loud beachfront parties, reveling in the company of teenage girls and young women.

Next door, Louis Bacon, an American hedge fund billionaire, presided over an airy retreat with a lawn for croquet. Mr. Bacon preferred hunting alone with a bow and arrow to attending wild parties, and if mentioned at all in the press, was typically described as buttoned-up.

The neighbors had little in common except for extreme wealth and a driveway. But when Mr. Nygard wasn’t allowed to rebuild after a fire, he blamed Mr. Bacon. Since then, the two have been embroiled in an epic battle, spending tens of millions of dollars and filing at least 25 lawsuits in five jurisdictions. Mr. Nygard, 78, has spread stories accusing Mr. Bacon of being an insider trader, murderer and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Bacon, 63, has accused Mr. Nygard of plotting to kill him.

Video

Cinemagraph
The Nygard residence, located in the wealthy Lyford Cay community.

The latest charge is particularly incendiary: Lawyers and investigators funded in part by Mr. Bacon claim that Mr. Nygard raped teenage girls in the Bahamas.

This month, a federal lawsuit was filed by separate lawyers in New York on behalf of 10 women accusing Mr. Nygard of sexual assault. The lawsuit claims that Mr. Nygard used his company, Nygard International, and employees to procure young victims and ply them with alcohol and drugs. He also paid Bahamian police officers to quash reports, shared women with local politicians and groomed victims to recruit “fresh meat,” the lawsuit says. Through a spokesman, Mr. Nygard denied the allegations.

Over months of interviews with The New York Times, dozens of women and former employees described how alleged victims were lured to Mr. Nygard’s Bahamian home by the prospect of modeling jobs or a taste of luxury.

“He preys on poor people’s little girls,” said Natasha Taylor, who worked there for five years.

But this is not just a story of abuse allegations. It’s also a story about the lengths two rich men can go to in a small developing nation where the minimum wage is just $210 a week. Together, Mr. Nygard and Mr. Bacon are worth close to the annual budget of the government of the Bahamas, an archipelago off the coast of Florida with ritzy tourist resorts that belie the country’s pockets of poverty.

Image
Credit…Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

Their battle became a cottage industry for opportunists.

Investigators and lawyers tied to Mr. Bacon offered Nygard associates generous incentives to build an abuse case against the Canadian — Cartier jewelry, a regular salary or a year’s rent in a gated community, according to documents and interviews. Smaller payments filtered down to some accusers, which could be used to undermine their credibility in any court case or investigation.

Mr. Nygard used his wealth to intimidate critics and buy allies. He had employees sign confidentiality agreements and sued those he suspected of talking. Multiple women said he had handed them cash after sex, helping to buy silence. And he paid tens of thousands of dollars to people providing sworn statements to use against Mr. Bacon in lawsuits, according to court records, interviews and bank statements.

Some women said they felt exploited by both men — by Mr. Nygard for sex, and by Mr. Bacon against his enemy.

“They’re messing up people’s lives in the middle of their fight,” said Tamika Ferguson, who claims Mr. Nygard raped her when she was 16. She said she intended to join the lawsuit.

The Times interviewed all the women who eventually signed on to the suit, which identified them as Jane Does to protect their privacy. Reporters also spoke with five other women, who said Mr. Nygard sexually assaulted them in the Bahamas when they were teenagers. Three said they were under 16 at the time, the age of consent there. But two later recanted, saying they had been promised money and coached to fabricate their stories.

This isn’t the first time that Mr. Nygard, whose company sells women’s clothes at his own outlets and Dillard’s department stores, has been accused of sexual misconduct. Over the past four decades, nine women in Canada and California have sued him or reported him to the authorities. He has never been convicted.

Video

Cinemagraph
Mr. Nygard’s store in Manhattan.

Mr. Nygard declined multiple interview requests. One of his lawyers said he had “never treated women inappropriately” and called the allegations “paid-for lies.”

Ken Frydman, his spokesman, denied all the claims and said Mr. Bacon had spent more than a decade trying “to smear Peter Nygard by coercing women to fabricate and manufacture sordid stories about him.” Mr. Nygard also accused Mr. Bacon in a lawsuit of masterminding a conspiracy “to plant a false story” in The Times about sexual misconduct.

Mr. Bacon, who founded New York-based Moore Capital Management, said he felt obliged to take action after hearing of possible sexual abuse by his neighbor. His associates have spent two years finding women to bring claims against Mr. Nygard.

“I of anybody knew what it was like to have this guy come at you,” Mr. Bacon said in an interview. “So my heart went out to these women.”

Mr. Nygard’s property was unlike any other in Lyford Cay, one of the most exclusive communities in the Bahamas. His estate looked like something out of Las Vegas.

He called it the “Eighth Wonder of the World”: a lush retreat with sculptures of roaring lions and a human aquarium where topless women undulated in mermaid tails.

For one birthday, he flew in models who danced before him in body paint. His workers said they regularly lit torches at sunset and played the title song from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Michael Jackson and former President George H.W. Bush visited the property, which the Canadian businessman renamed “Nygard Cay.” (He named many things after himself: his jet, an electric shade of blue, bottled water.)

An avowed playboy who once joked that his attempt at celibacy was “the worst 20 minutes of my life,” Mr. Nygard wore his gray hair long and shirts open. He traveled with an entourage of models and women who described themselves as “paid girlfriends,” dated tabloid regulars like Anna Nicole Smith and fathered at least 10 children with eight women. Using himself as a human guinea pig, Mr. Nygard tried to fight off aging with stem cell injections and talked of cloning himself, one close friend said.

On many Sunday afternoons at his Bahamian estate, Mr. Nygard threw “pamper parties” that offered female guests free massages, manicures, horseback rides and endless alcohol. And he demanded a steady supply of sex partners, according to six former employees who said they recruited young women at shops, clubs and restaurants.

Credit…Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times
Credit…Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

“One time, he was like: ‘I don’t know where you find these girls from, but there’s pretty girls in the ghetto as well,’” recalled Freddy Barr, Mr. Nygard’s personal assistant in the early 2000s. “‘You need to find pretty girls in need.’”

Eventually his staff compiled an invitation list, provided to The Times, with names of more than 700 women. Former workers said they photographed guests when they arrived, uploading the images for their boss’s perusal. Only those who were young, slim and with a curvy backside — which Mr. Nygard called a “toilet” — were supposed to be allowed inside, according to the ex-employees, including Ms. Taylor. (She asked to be identified by her maiden name to keep people from knowing her connection with Nygard Cay.)

The actress Jessica Alba, who attended a Nygard party while filming “Into the Blue” in 2004, later described it as “gross.” “These girls are like 14 years old in the Jacuzzi, taking off their clothes,” she said on a press tour.

Once the party got going, the former employees and girlfriends said, they coaxed teenagers and young women into Mr. Nygard’s bedroom, sometimes with the aid of alcohol and drugs.

Mr. Nygard did not respond to most of The Times’s questions. Instead, his spokesman, Mr. Frydman, sent affidavits from former employees who asserted that their boss had never abused women and that no underage girls were allowed at Nygard Cay. One even called Mr. Nygard the Bahamas’ “most generous and honest expatriate.”

Others cast aspersions on Mr. Bacon, claiming he had paid Nygard employees to dig up dirt and had objected to black Bahamians visiting Lyford Cay.

Mr. Nygard, estimated to be worth roughly $750 million in 2014 by Canadian Business magazine, had long blended his professional and personal lives. He literally lived at work. A 1980 news article described an area of his office in Winnipeg — the city in Manitoba where he built his company — as a “passion pit” with a mirrored ceiling and a couch that transformed into a bed at the “push of a button.”

Over the years, he was repeatedly accused of demanding that female employees satisfy him sexually. There were the nine women in Winnipeg and Los Angeles who accused Mr. Nygard of sexual harassment or assault. But The Times spoke with 10 others who said he had proposed sex, touched them inappropriately or raped them. Only one of them is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Debra Macdonald, hired as his secretary in 1978 when she was 19, said Mr. Nygard continually harassed her and tried to grab her breasts. Once, he summoned her into his Winnipeg office as a pornographic film played on television, she said in an interview. “I was so disgusted,” she said.

Ms. Macdonald quit in 1980, shortly after the Winnipeg police charged Mr. Nygard with raping an 18-year-old woman. The case was dropped after the woman refused to testify.

Another former employee said that on a business trip to Hong Kong that same year, Mr. Nygard slipped into her hotel room while she slept. The woman, Jonna Laursen, then 32, told The Times that he raped her. A single mother from Denmark, she said she worried the police wouldn’t take her seriously and she’d lose her reputation and job.

“I knew the right thing would be to report it,” Ms. Laursen said, “but somehow I felt that I would come out the loser.”

Just over a year later, she said, she was fired without cause. She then described the episode to a colleague, Dale Dreffs, who confirmed hearing it. When Ms. Laursen threatened to go to the press, a company manager offered her $6,700 and a letter of recommendation for her silence, she said.

In 1995, a new hire was taken from the airport to Mr. Nygard’s Winnipeg office-apartment, where he had sex with her “against her will,” a lawsuit said. The woman’s lawyer confirmed that the suit led to a nondisclosure agreement. Then, in 1996, Mr. Nygard’s company settled sexual harassment complaints against him by three former workers — for about $15,000, according to The Winnipeg Free Press.

In 2015, another former employee said, Mr. Nygard came into her locked room while she slept at his Los Angeles home and raped her. He later fired her, she said. Emails shown to The Times confirmed that she contacted a lawyer at the time about suing him. The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, is the only non-Bahamian to join the new lawsuit.

Separately, two women sued Mr. Nygard last month for sexual battery. One, who was not identified, said she was under 18 — the California age of consent — when she visited Mr. Nygard’s Los Angeles home in 2012. Her lawsuit said Mr. Nygard knew her age “yet repeatedly had sexual intercourse with her.”

In the other lawsuit, a former employee, Maridel Carbuccia, claimed Mr. Nygard drugged and sexually assaulted her at his Los Angeles home in 2016. Ashamed to tell her family, she said, she continued working for him for more than two years before she was fired.

In 2009, a blaze erupted at Nygard Cay, damaging several cabanas, the so-called grand hall and the disco. The fire department said it was accidental, probably caused by an electrical fault. But some Nygard Cay employees said their boss blamed Mr. Bacon, an ardent conservationist who had accused Mr. Nygard of illegally mining sand to create new beachfront.

Credit…Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times
Credit…Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

The government refused to let Mr. Nygard rebuild. Within days, the war began.

Mr. Nygard sued over changes his neighbor had made years earlier to their driveway. Then he sued the government, saying it was colluding with Mr. Bacon to force him off the island.

The allegations became more bizarre: One street protest in Nassau featured men in white hoods and placards proclaiming, “Bacon Is KKK.” New websites funded by Mr. Nygard claimed Mr. Bacon was responsible for several murders, court records show. A video made by Nygard staff, according to a former contractor, superimposed Mr. Bacon’s face on the collapsing Twin Towers.

“It was an assault on me, my reputation, my safety,” Mr. Bacon said.

Video

Video player loading
A street protest in 2015 targeting Mr. Bacon.

Mr. Nygard was a formidable opponent. Police officers and local journalists dined at his home; one later admitted in court that Mr. Nygard had paid him to smear Mr. Bacon. Mr. Nygard also had allies in the Progressive Liberal Party, which he wanted to legalize stem cell injections. He bragged he’d given the party $5 million during the 2012 election campaign — legally, as the Bahamas has no campaign finance laws. After it won the election, a Nygard YouTube channel posted a video featuring six ministers visiting his estate.

He threatened — or sued — media outlets that investigated him. He slow-walked lawsuits, filing countless motions and requesting delays, exhausting his foes. A judge referred to his “scorched-earth” tactics in a protracted fight over child support.

But Mr. Bacon was a rare adversary. His wealth was valued at more than double Mr. Nygard’s.

He helped form a nonprofit called Save the Bays to target environmental abuses, starting with Nygard Cay. Fred Smith, a prominent human-rights lawyer, came on board.

Mr. Bacon and his older brother, Zack, hired a small army of lawyers and private investigators, including veterans of the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard. They persuaded some of Mr. Nygard’s allies to provide evidence for a defamation lawsuit, filed in 2015. They launched their own lawsuits. And they paid well.

Two self-described former gang members, Livingston “Toggie” Bullard and Wisler “Bobo” Davilma, told the Bacons’ investigators that Mr. Nygard had hired them for dirty work, like torching his ex-girlfriend’s hair salon and staging anti-Bacon rallies, according to court records. The men claimed Mr. Nygard had given them a “hit list” that included Louis Bacon and Mr. Smith. Mr. Nygard has denied this.

Mr. Bullard and Mr. Davilma, working with the Bacon investigators, hatched a plan to videotape Mr. Nygard. The private eyes acted like secret agents, using encrypted phones and dropping cash for the two men in a box behind a post office. Eventually, the Bacons paid the two about $1.5 million, mostly for secretly recording five meetings with Mr. Nygard.

The videos turned up no sign of Mr. Nygard’s plotting murder. “I can’t get into killing,” he said in footage obtained by The Times.

Instead, a video from June 2015 captured him on a favorite topic. Looking out a car window, Mr. Nygard said there were many women with whom he hadn’t yet had sex.

“Do you see those toilets?” he asked.

The Bacons said they were disturbed by stories they heard about Mr. Nygard having sex with teenage girls. In late 2015, they hired TekStratex, a new Texas security firm, to push American law enforcement officials to investigate him for sex trafficking.

The firm’s leader, Jeff Davis, told Zack Bacon that he’d worked for the C.I.A. for 10 years — including in something called “the ghost program,” Mr. Bacon recalled.

The F.B.I. looked into Mr. Nygard twice, but only briefly. In April 2016, the Department of Homeland Security dug in.

To help the inquiry, the Bacons moved five witnesses — two former Bahamian employees of Mr. Nygard and three former girlfriends — to the United States and covered their living expenses. Mr. Davis told them that Mr. Nygard had “put out hits on them,” several recalled in interviews. Burly bodyguards drove them to different houses and hotels, swerving through traffic and changing cars, saying they were being followed.

Despite the Bacons’ efforts, the Homeland Security investigation fizzled after nine months, suspended because of “unforeseen circumstances” and “lack of prosecutorial evidence,” according to an agency email.

Mr. Davis turned out to be a fraud. Instead of being an ex-spy, he was a former car broker with a string of debts and failed businesses. The Bacons had shelled out about $6 million. “I fired him,” Zack Bacon said.

He soon focused on a lawsuit, hoping to draw on the #MeToo movement and “the most aggressive lawyers in the world,” Zack Bacon said in a recording provided to The Times.

By last summer, Mr. Smith and the private investigators had introduced about 15 Bahamian women to American lawyers at the DiCello Levitt Gutzler firm. They were planning to bring a lawsuit in New York, where Mr. Nygard’s company had its corporate headquarters. His portrait hung outside a flagship store near Times Square, golden muscles flexing.

At Mr. Smith’s suggestion, six women went to the Bahamian police — a big step, as law enforcement is considered the most corrupt public institution in the country, according to a 2017 Transparency International study, and sex crimes are notoriously underreported. Only 55 rapes were tallied there in 2018, while Cleveland, with a similar population, had 585. The Bahamian police are still investigating.

The stories echoed one another. The lawsuit would later claim that women were sodomized and forced into other acts they found degrading.

One woman, now involved in the suit, told The Times she was 14 when she met Mr. Nygard at one of his stores in 2015; she has a photo with him that day. She said she was later invited for a modeling interview at Nygard Cay, where he assaulted her. She said she had never told anyone what happened.

Another woman in the suit said in an interview that she was 14 when she attended a pamper party in 2011, after her mother asked Mr. Nygard to sponsor her in a beauty pageant. “Is this what my life can be?” she recalled thinking of the models in the room.

Her glass of wine never seemed to empty, she said. Later, she recalled, she swallowed pills Mr. Nygard told her models took. Then, she said, he took her upstairs and raped her. Drawn by the money and promise of modeling gigs, she later returned, recruiting other women, she said.

Tamika Ferguson found her way to Nygard Cay in 2004 after being kicked out of high school. An orphan from a poor neighborhood, she said a D.J. had invited her to a pamper party. She drank too much and ended up in a bathroom barefoot in her bikini, she said. When she emerged, her friends had gone. She said Mr. Nygard steered her upstairs and raped her.

Ms. Ferguson said she returned multiple times and had sex with Mr. Nygard because she felt she couldn’t say no; he sent people to her home to pick her up. She gave The Times two photographs of herself at Nygard Cay; three people — a former Nygard girlfriend, an ex-employee and a guest — said they remembered her there.

“He messed with my whole life,” said Ms. Ferguson, now 32. “And everybody knew what was going on except for me.”

For years, Mr. Nygard had insisted that Louis Bacon paid people to lie about him. The hedge fund founder maintained that wasn’t true.

But his team created vulnerabilities, giving money and gifts to witnesses and accusers in the Bahamas, The Times found. Mr. Bacon and his brother said they were unaware of any gifts and payments, and expressed confidence in Mr. Smith’s professionalism.

The Bahamian lawyers and investigators were not paid by the Bacons directly. Instead, they were paid by a nonprofit Mr. Smith created, called Sanctuary, to support sexual assault victims; both he and Mr. Bacon donated generously to that.

“They are handing the defendant arguments,” said Jeanne Christensen, a New York lawyer focusing on sexual harassment.

The private investigators and Mr. Smith compensated two witnesses who found alleged victims: Litira Fox, a former girlfriend of Mr. Nygard’s who said she recruited for him, and Richette Ross, a former massage therapist at Nygard Cay who said she did the same. Through a spokesman, Mr. Nygard said that he did not remember Ms. Fox, and that neither recruited for him.

Ms. Ross did well. After she told Mr. Smith that unknown assailants had shot up her former home, killed her family dog and broke into her car in different incidents, Mr. Smith moved her into a gated community, paying $5,000 a month.

The story was familiar: She had told a variation to Mr. Nygard two years earlier, emails show. “I sent you money to buy a new dog,” Mr. Nygard wrote after his company wired her almost $10,000.

“Call police immediately,” he said. “Put in a charge against BACON.”

Mr. Smith also gave Ms. Ross $500 a week to work on another potential lawsuit against Mr. Nygard, this one for workplace abuses.

Accusers received smaller payments. Ms. Fox, who earned $2,000 a month, said she passed some of that to the women she brought to meetings with lawyers and investigators — often $200 for a visit. Mr. Smith acknowledged giving about $1,000 collectively to four or five alleged victims, but said that was for their time and expenses.

“I’m not going to give them $100 to lie, for goodness’ sake,” he said.

There were more substantial gifts. Deidre Miller said Ms. Fox invited her to the Baha Mar luxury resort in August 2018 to meet with investigators. She was a valuable witness — she would later tell The Times she had dated Mr. Nygard for years and had seen two teenagers in his bed, one in her school uniform.

Afterward, Ms. Miller said, the investigators took her and Ms. Fox to the resort’s Cartier store. There, she said, the men bought each woman a matching 18-carat gold bracelet and necklace for $9,350. Ms. Miller provided a photo of the receipt, though the man whose name was on it denied making the purchase.

“He was like, ‘It’s a gift from our boss,’” Ms. Miller recalled. “They said they were working for Louis Bacon.”

For more than a year, Marvinique Smith and her sister, Marrinique, were central to the developing lawsuit.

They told their stories repeatedly to lawyers, investigators and the Bahamian police. Marvinique said she was invited to a pamper party in 2010, when she was 15. There, she said, Mr. Nygard talked to her about modeling and had sex with her. Her sister recounted a horrific tale: Mr. Nygard had raped her as cartoons played on TV. She said she was 10.

But in October, the sisters told a very different story to Times reporters: They had never been assaulted by Mr. Nygard. They had never even met him. They claimed Ms. Ross had paid them to make everything up.

Marvinique Smith said Ms. Ross suggested she might collect as much as a half-million dollars in a settlement, and then could give Ms. Ross a cut.

She coached them on Mr. Nygard’s pickup lines, bedroom layout and sexual proclivities, the sisters said. Meanwhile, she gave them cash — $150 here, $350 there — for every meeting, they said.

Ms. Smith said she confessed to lying because Ms. Ross, who was dating her boyfriend’s father, stopped paying her. She and her sister felt guilty and scared. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” Ms. Smith said, adding, “There might be girls that it actually happened to, but it didn’t happen to me and my sister.”

Ms. Ross denied paying anyone to fabricate stories about Mr. Nygard, and passed a lie-detector test to that effect, according to Robert Ennis, a polygrapher hired by her lawyers.

In an interview, she speculated that Mr. Nygard had paid the Smith sisters to recant — a notion they rejected.

Ms. Ross had undisclosed connections with other women she brought to the lawyers. Two were relatives. Two were related to a close friend. All were included as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

She had also sent a note to a former Nygard employee, asking to talk about the case. “It will pay very handsomely,” she wrote. When asked about that, Ms. Ross said she meant it would pay in “justice.”

Since the American lawyers filed the suit, they said, they’ve received calls from more than three dozen women alleging abuse as far back as the 1970s. The new allegations, mainly from women in Canada and the United States, show their case has nothing to do with the neighbors’ feud, the lawyers said.

“It’s a good cause, regardless of what you think may have been the motivation,” said Greg Gutzler, the lead lawyer in the lawsuit. He said his firm, which operates on contingency and has no financial ties to Mr. Bacon, had done its own investigation and never paid any accuser or witness. The lawyers hope the claim will become a class action.

Facing legal troubles over his property, Mr. Nygard hasn’t been to the Bahamas in more than a year. Even as he recently attended a fashion show flanked by models in Canada, he insisted he was too ill to travel to the Bahamas for court hearings.

Eric Gibson, a former Nygard employee and longtime friend, called The Times on his behalf. He said Mr. Nygard was a “kind, conscientious” man who would not have harmed anyone.

“Women in the Bahamas throw themselves at Peter Nygard,” Mr. Gibson said. “He is the one that all the girls want to be with.”

Research was contributed by Susan C. Beachy, Kitty Bennett, Johanna Lemola and Declan Schroeder.

1 BUSINESS

Business News - Opportunities - Reviews

 

 

Leave a Reply