Nov 3, 2022 - Economy & Business

LAPD involved in corporate sexual misconduct case, investigation reveals

Image of former CBS CEO Les Moonves against a backdrop of CBS logos

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A captain in the Los Angeles Police Department tipped off former CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves after a woman filed a confidential criminal sexual assault complaint against him, and then helped him cover up the allegation, according to a report from New York Attorney General Letitia James, released Wednesday.

Why it matters: Part of a multimillion settlement agreement with Moonves and the network, the report offers a clear picture of the culture of corruption a truly powerful leader can foster — when the police, industry strivers and corporate board rooms work to protect them.

  • It also underscores the uphill battle women face in reporting misconduct about such well-protected men and how extraordinary the Me Too moment was.

Despite pulling extraordinary levers, Moonves was ultimately felled by multiple reports of sexual harassment published in The New Yorker and The New York Times.

Details: The LAPD captain, who had worked as Moonves' security aid at the Grammy Awards for several years, called one of the CEO's staffers in November 2017, shortly after the woman filed her complaint.

  • "It's confidential, as you know, but call me, and I can give you some of the details and let you know what the allegation is before it goes to the media or gets out," said the officer in a voicemail to CBS' senior vice president of talent, according to the details of an explosive investigation made public Wednesday by the NY AG's office.
  • The info made its way to Moonves and ultimately led to a meeting at a restaurant in Westlake Village, California, between the three men to discuss the situation.
  • The police officer kept in touch with the team, at one point texting Moonves' personal attorney to say that the investigating officer on the case would "admonish" the accuser about going to the media. "You will be the first and only point of contact regarding [t]he investigation," he wrote the attorney.
  • After Moonves resigned in September, 2018, the officer texted: "Les — I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. I will always stand with, by and pledge my allegiance to you. You have embodied leadership, class and the highest of character through all of this. With upmost respect..."

Meanwhile, accusations from a second accuser were silenced by a talent agent eager to get in Moonves's graces, the report shows.

State of play: The allegation that the LAPD helped cover up the police complaint is new, though the existence of the complaint itself was reported by the New York Times in 2018.

Zoom out: Often after a media outlet publishes a report on sexual misconduct inside an organization, a company will say it's launching an investigation into those claims. Oftentimes, they are window-dressing.

  • James' report on Wednesday details one such "investigation" by an attorney hired by CBS.
  • It "consisted only of a single 20-minute telephone call with Moonves and a request for Moonves’ human resources file. The M&A Attorney interviewed no other persons, collected no additional documents, and reviewed none of Moonves’ electronic communications."
  • "Even Moonves, in pleadings and during testimony, referred to the investigation with quotes, suggesting the investigation was not genuine."
  • Moonves was, for a time, protected by his board of directors. "I don't care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff,” one board member reportedly told his colleagues. “Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him."

For the record: The attorney general announced that Moonves would have to pay $2.5 million to CBS shareholders, and for five years can't serve as an officer or director of a public company without approval from James. The report notes that neither CBS nor Moonves "admit nor deny" its findings.

What they're saying: "We are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle to resolve this matter concerning events from 2018 with the New York attorney general’s office, without any admission of liability or wrongdoing," a Paramount spokesperson told Los Angeles Times in a statement.

  • LAPD spokesperson Capt. Kelly Muniz said the department was "fully cooperating with the New York and California attorney general offices" and had also initiated an internal investigation," per the L.A. Times.

💭 Emily's thought bubble: That someone like Moonves was held to account is remarkable in hindsight, now that the frenzied reporting atmosphere of 2018 is in the rearview.

What they're saying: "The LAPD's duty was clear," Shaunna Thomas, cofounder of the women's advocacy group UltraViolet told Axios. "The fact that public pressure was necessary in order to get a remotely just outcome is a sign of a broken system."

Read more:

  • Les Moonves, Paramount reach deal with NY AG in sexual misconduct probe (Axios)
  • Les Moonves and CBS Face Allegation of Sexual Misconduct (The New Yorker)

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