The ex-Vegas showgirl is suing Bill Cosby on the East Coast. The ex-supermodel is suing him on the West Coast.
His own insurance company is suing him on both coasts.
At the same time, prosecutors in Pennsylvania are trying to put the comedic icon in prison on criminal charges, while attorneys in California have forced his old pal Hugh Hefner, the Playboy mogul, to testify about him at a deposition.
One-and-a-half years after below-the-radar allegations of drugging and sexual assault morphed into a full-blown scandal, Cosby stands in the maw of an extraordinary cross-country legal and public-relations melodrama. Not a single day passes when some court somewhere is not occupied with Cosby, whether it’s the state bench in Los Angeles, where he once made the scene in Hollywood, or the federal docket in Massachusetts, where he was supposed to be living the quiet life at a country estate.
As the entertainer’s 79th birthday approaches this summer, his life has become a blur of legal minutiae, lawyers and judges. He has been entangled in at least seven defamation, sexual assault or sexual battery lawsuits filed against him by 13 accusers in three states. The criminal prosecution in suburban Philadelphia is scheduled to resume Tuesday with an important hearing to determine whether the stalled case can now move forward. And there are the civil cases with his insurance company, American International Group (AIG), which doesn’t think it should have to cover Cosby’s legal fees or judgments in cases filed by several accusers who claim they were defamed by him.
“It’s as if he’s in the castle having a sword fight with 15 palace guards at once,” said George Parry, a veteran Philadelphia defense attorney.
The legal battles could chip away at the finances of one of the wealthiest entertainers in American history, so rich that he reportedly once considered buying the NBC television network — and it seemed entirely plausible. Gloria Allred, a celebrity feminist attorney who represents one woman who has sued Cosby for sexual battery and more than two dozen other accusers, has suggested that Cosby should set up a $100 million fund to compensate his alleged victims.
All of this would have unthinkable in late 2014. Cosby was on the verge of a big comeback, with deals for programs on NBC and Netflix. But comedian Hannibal Buress made a crack onstage in Baltimore, asking the audience to do a Google search on the words “Cosby and rapist.” His remarks went viral after a video of the performance was posted on the website of Philadelphia Magazine. Then one of his accusers, a former model named Barbara Bowman, wrote a widely read November 2014 column in The Washington Post, headlined “Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years for people to believe me?”
A trickle of public accusers — about 15 back then — has become a torrent. At least 56 women have now publicly accused him of rape, sexual assault or inappropriate sexual behavior over four decades. They have outlined their accusations, often in cringe-inducing detail, spooling out their claims in tearful news conferences, pointed articles and exhaustively rendered legal filings.
The total number of accusers is probably even greater: At least two other women testified against him as Jane Does in a now-settled 2005 lawsuit. They were identified by name in a deposition but have not come forward publicly. They would bring the accuser list to at least 58. Statutes of limitation prevent most of the women from seeking criminal charges.
A Washington Post analysis of accuser statements, as well as interviews with alleged victims and previously undisclosed court records, shows that women have accused Cosby of sexually assaulting them in at least 19 cities in 11 states, and one foreign country: Canada. More than three dozen women have alleged that he drugged them, stating that he gave them pills or saying that they believe he spiked their drinks.
Cosby has denied sexually assaulting women. When the story was first breaking, his representatives issued several statements, including one that said: “Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true.” Cosby’s then-attorney, Martin D. Singer, issued a statement after several women went public, calling their claims “fantastical.” In lawsuits around the country, Cosby accusers have said that the denials defamed them by painting them as liars.
(The Post generally does not publish the names of alleged victims of sexual assault, but all the women identified in this story have made their accusations public.)
Cosby’s attorneys and spokesmen declined to be interviewed for this article.
Many of his accusers were aspiring actresses or models at the time of the alleged assaults, women who came into contact with Cosby through the professional world and were drawn to him by promises that he could help their careers. One of the accusers, Linda Brown, is touted as the first actress to appear in a bra in a national television commercial, earning that distinction in the 1960s, when Cosby was making his mark as a trailblazing African American star. Others were extras or had small parts on Cosby’s shows. But there are also stewardesses, a donut-shop clerk, a massage therapist and an amateur tennis player.
The scenes of the alleged assaults speak to Cosby’s wealth and status: television and movie studios, fancy hotels and limousines. But there are three locations that appear over and over: Cosby’s well-appointed brownstone in Manhattan; the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, and the Elvis penthouse suite at the Las Vegas Hilton, where Cosby often stayed while headlining shows in the gambling mecca.
The accusations aired by Cosby’s accusers have significance that goes well beyond the drumbeat of tabloid headlines generated by each new development in his saga or mere prurient interest. Each new woman who comes forward widens the list of possible witnesses in the criminal case against Cosby.
“I am certain that there are some accusers who may be willing to testify if and when their testimony is considered relevant,” Allred said in an interview.
In the criminal case, Cosby is charged with drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a woman he mentored when she was an official with the women’s basketball team at Temple University, where the comedian served as a member of the board of trustees.
The allegations against Cosby became enmeshed in a Montgomery County, Pa., political campaign in November when Kevin Steele, a veteran prosecutor, defeated Bruce Castor, a former district attorney who had opted not to prosecute Cosby in 2005. In a series of court filings, Cosby’s attorneys have accused Steele of prosecuting the comedian merely to fulfill a campaign promise.
Steele’s case seems hampered by a lack of physical evidence and by the passage of more than a decade. But one of Steele’s biggest possible pieces of evidence comes directly from Cosby’s mouth: a 900-page deposition that Cosby gave in 2005 and 2006 in a civil lawsuit filed by Constand. The case was eventually settled for an undisclosed sum.
In the deposition, Cosby admitted to giving Constand pills — he called them her “little friends.” He said that they were Benadryl; Constand’s attorney, in the course of questioning, said that her client thinks she was given something else.
The alleged assault took place at Cosby’s estate in Elkins Park, a tony Philadelphia suburb. Constand had gone there for dinner with the comedian.
Cosby also admits to acquiring Quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex over the years. Cosby’s attorneys have been trying, without success, to get the criminal case tossed because they claim that Cosby only agreed to the deposition because he had been promised by Castor that he would not be prosecuted.
If the case goes to trial, legal experts said that it is likely that jurors will hear testimony from numerous women. Under Pennsylvania law, prosecutors are given wide latitude to introduce witnesses who can testify about previous alleged incidents, as long as they have a similar set of facts or show a pattern of behavior, known in legal terms as a “common plan, scheme or design.”
“Trial judges are generally quite willing to allow other bad acts,” said Dennis Cogan, a prominent Philadelphia attorney known for defending former Pennsylvania state senator Vincent Fumo (D-Philadelphia) in a blockbuster 2009 corruption case.
Prosecutors could reach as far back as 1965 — the first publicly alleged incident involving Cosby, just a year after the comedian married, in which a 22-year-old talent agency secretary, Kristina Ruehli, said she passed out after the comedian gave her a cocktail, and awoke naked in bed with him trying to force his penis into her mouth. Or they could opt for more recent accusations, the last of which allegedly took place in 2008, when a teenage model, Chloe Goins, said that Cosby drugged her in a bedroom at the Playboy Mansion and she blacked out, later awakening to find a sticky substance on her breasts and Cosby biting one of her toes.
“This is going to be some extravaganza,” said Lynne Abraham, who oversaw the high-profile and ultimately unsuccessful prosecution of Philadelphia 76ers basketball star Allen Iverson on felony gun and trespassing charges. “You’re probably going to need sawdust and peanuts because it’ll be a three-ring circus.”
With so much attention trained on the case, and the prospect of a parade of witnesses against Cosby, the cost of a trial could easily top $7 million, with most of that borne by the defense, according to Tom Bergstrom, a Philadelphia defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.
Cosby’s insurance company, AIG, has already spent $2 million in one civil lawsuit in Massachusetts alone, according to statements made during a court hearing last month. An AIG attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
AIG is involved because Cosby’s homeowner’s policies provide coverage for defamation. But the insurance company is arguing that the coverage excludes “actual, alleged or threatened” sexual molestation or harassment.
The defamation cases have so far provided more pyrotechnics than the criminal case. There was a chaotic scene in March when Cosby’s wife of 42 years, Camille, testified at a deposition in Springfield, Mass., in a defamation lawsuit filed by seven of her husband’s accusers. Hotel workers hastily erected heavy black drapes to block a horde of reporters from seeing the conference room where she was being deposed.
The questioning veered into uncomfortable territory. Magistrate Judge David Hennessy upbraided Joseph Cammarata, the attorney for the seven women.
Hennessy, who stood leaning on his chair, his face growing red with anger during a hearing last month, forbade Cammarata from asking Cosby’s wife questions such as, “Were you asleep when you had sex with your husband?”
Cammarata, a streetwise District-based attorney with a thick Brooklyn accent who once represented Paula Jones in her sexual misconduct case against President Bill Clinton, has assembled the largest group of Cosby accusers currently involved in a lawsuit. Several of his clients, including former models Tamara Green, Therese Serignese and Barbara Bowman, were Jane Doe accusers in Constand’s civil lawsuit.
But others have opted to sue Cosby on their own. In Massachusetts, Ruehli — the first alleged victim — and a former Vegas showgirl, Kathrine McKee, have filed separate defamation suits against Cosby. McKee, a casting agent who has said she was the longtime mistress of entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., has accused Cosby of raping her in his Detroit hotel after she picked up some ribs for him.
“His whole personality changed,” McKee said in an interview. “It was like he was another human being. It was like a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde.”
On the other side of the country, former supermodel Janice Dickinson is suing Cosby for defamation, too. But there’s a separate case in Los Angeles that takes a different tack: Instead of suing Cosby for defamation, a woman named Judy Huth is suing the comedian for sexual battery, alleging that she suffered long-term psychological damage because Cosby “performed a sex act on himself” with her hand in a bedroom at the Playboy Mansion when she was only 15 years old.
Cosby was deposed in the Huth case for seven hours in October at a secret location in Boston, but a second planned deposition has been delayed because of the criminal case in Pennsylvania. Still, Allred, who is Huth’s attorney, is allowed to gather more evidence in her case, and she said she is scheduled to depose Hefner, the 90-year-old Playboy founder.
In late 2014, as more accusers were coming forward, Hefner issued a statement, saying: “Bill Cosby has been a good friend for many years and the mere thought of these allegations is truly saddening. I would never tolerate this kind of behavior, regardless of who was involved.”
Hefner’s name is sprinkled throughout the Cosby saga, in part because at least five women say they were assaulted by Cosby at the famed Playboy Mansions in Los Angeles and Chicago. Hefner emerges in the role of host, who offered Cosby frequent and liberal use of his properties.
Charlotte Fox, who says she worked as an extra on the Cosby film “Uptown Saturday Night” in the 1970s, recalled dining with Cosby and another woman at the Playboy Mansion after a night of partying at a jazz club. Hefner popped in to say hello, Fox said in a written statement issued by her attorney, but “Mr. Cosby was our host.”
Fox became ill, she recalled, then awoke naked in a bedroom, with Cosby crawling across the bed toward her. She was “incapacitated,” but “afraid to call out” when Cosby engaged in non-consensual sexual activity with her, Fox said.
Hefner appears prominently in the allegations of Goins, the model who says she was a teenager when Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted her. According to her lawsuit, she met Cosby and Hefner at an event at the Playboy Mansion in 2008. Goins, who is also suing Hefner, said she believes Cosby put something in her drink that made her ill. Hefner asked if she wanted to go to a room and lie down, according to the lawsuit, and Cosby offered to walk her there; she then “blacked out,” the lawsuit states, awakening to Cosby’s advances. (Hefner’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.)
Goins also found another way to makes her feelings known about Cosby: She recorded a rap song, complete with a chorus that includes a male voice imitating the comedian’s signature “Hey, hey, hey” line from the animated series “Fat Albert.”
“Hey Bill,” Goins sings. “I guess you think you’re pretty slick, huh? Making sure you drugged us thinking that we’d forgetcha. . . . It’s not going away. It’s time to face the facts: I can guarantee that you’ll never make a comeback. End o’ your game. Promise you won’t be missed cuz I’m here in this studio, cutting this diss.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.