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Fashion boss accused of exploiting men for sex

By primenewsghana
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The ex-CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch and his British partner face allegations of exploitation from men recruited for sex events they hosted around the world.

A BBC investigation found a highly organised network used a middleman to find young men for the events with Mike Jeffries and Matthew Smith.

Eight men told the BBC they attended these events, some of whom alleged they were exploited or abused.

Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith did not respond to requests for comment.

But the couple's middleman denied any wrongdoing and said men went into these events "with their eyes wide open".

Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) - which also owns the Hollister brand - said it was "appalled and disgusted" by the alleged behaviour.

Two former US prosecutors who independently reviewed documents and testimony uncovered by the BBC have called for an investigation to determine whether charges for sex trafficking could be brought. Under US law, sex trafficking includes getting an adult to travel to another state or country to have sex for money by using force, fraud or coercion.

Over two decades from the 1990s, Mike Jeffries transformed A&F from a failing heritage outfitter into a multi-billion-dollar teen retailer by selling sex appeal, with preppy all-American shirtless male store models and provocative billboards.

How Jeffries used shirtless models to sell Abercrombie

Once one of America's highest-paid CEOs, he was a controversial figure who faced claims of discrimination against staff, concerns about his lavish expenses and complaints about the unofficial influence of his life partner, Matthew Smith, inside A&F.

In 2014, Mr Jeffries stepped down following declining sales and left with a retirement package valued at around $25m (£20.5m), according to company filings at the time.

The BBC has now uncovered allegations that the fashion mogul exploited young adult men for sex at events he hosted in his New York residences and luxurious hotels around the world, including in London, Paris, Venice, and Marrakesh.

As part of a two-year investigation, the BBC has spoken to 12 men who described attending or organising events involving sex acts run for Mr Jeffries, 79, and his British partner Mr Smith, 60, between 2009 and 2015.

The eight men who attended the events said they were recruited by a middleman, who they described as having a missing nose covered with a snakeskin patch. The BBC has identified him as James Jacobson.

The BBC carried out extensive fact-checking of the men's testimonies, which bore a striking number of similarities.

We obtained documents - including emails, flight tickets and detailed travel itineraries - that supported key points of the men's accounts. We also interviewed dozens of other sources, including former household staff.

Half the men who told the BBC about their recruitment alleged they had been initially misled about the nature of the events or not told sex was involved. Others said they understood the events would be sexual, but not exactly what was expected of them. All were paid.

Several told the BBC the middleman or other recruiters raised the possibility of modelling opportunities with A&F. All except one said they felt harmed by the experience.

David Bradberry, then 23, said he was introduced in 2010 to Mr Jacobson by an agent who described him as the gatekeeper to "the owners" of A&F, but said there was no mention of sex. At their meeting, he said Mr Jacobson suggested Bruce Weber - then A&F's official photographer - should take his picture.

Then, Mr Bradberry said, "Jim made it clear to me that unless I let him perform oral sex on me, that I would not be meeting with Abercrombie & Fitch or Mike Jeffries."

"I was paralysed," he said. "It was like he was selling fame. And the price was compliance." Mr Bradberry said he had been made to believe "this is where everybody gets their start". He recalled that Mr Jacobson gave him $500 and told him it was for his time.

Looking back, he said this incident should have been "a red flag" but he thought Mr Jacobson "was just a creepy old dude that I wouldn't have to see again".

Mr Bradberry accepted an invitation to a daytime event at Mr Jeffries' former home in the Hamptons on New York's Long Island - recently sold for $29m. He said he understood Mike Jeffries was a "powerful man" who could "make his career". Ahead of the event, he said Jim told him to buy an outfit with some A&F gift cards, which he said made it feel "legitimate" and "official".

At the Hamptons, Mr Bradberry said he spoke to Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith about his aspirations to be an A&F model. Later, he said, Mr Jeffries held "poppers" under his nose - a drug which can cause a strong head-rush and disorientation - and later had sex with him.