(On July 29, lawyers for Wey filed a motion in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, asking the court to alter the jury’s finding in this case or have a new trial and to reduce what they called “the jury’s strikingly excessive” damages awards.)
Benjamin Wey was a hard-charging businessman who made millions with complicated and, at times, controversial corporate mergers.
But then the 43-year-old fell for his Swedish assistant, Hanna Bouveng. In a lawsuit filed last year, the 25-year-old model accused Wey of pressuring her into having sex, then firing and hounding her after she cut things off.
On Monday, a jury in a Manhattan federal court awarded Bouveng $18 million after finding that Wey sexually harassed and defamed his former employee.
A two-week civil trial has exposed lurid allegations of an ambitious young beauty, a jealous and controlling Wall Street mogul, and a lopsided relationship that veered dangerously off the rails.
During the trial, Wey denied ever having sex with Bouveng and claimed he fired her because her social life was out of control. He said his former assistant was extorting him. The jury did not agree.
The case, Hanna Bouveng v. NYG Capital LLC and Benjamin Wey, showcased both the glitz and the grime of New York City, from luxe apartments, Rolex watches and Prada bags to racist messages, accusations of drugs and prostitution, and one very shameful sex toy.
The story begins at a swank party in the Hamptons. That’s where Wey met Bouveng, kicking off two years of “chaos” — in the words of Wey’s wife — that would end with attorneys, acrimony and allegations of international stalking.
Wey was a Chinese immigrant who had traded Tianjin for rural Oklahoma as a teenager, arriving with just $62 in his pocket. “Houses are big; air conditioners are big; milk is so cold,” he said in a 2010 interview with the online publication Today’s Machining World. “Nothing was cooked, and every time there was a meal on the table it was so big. As a little guy who was experiencing America for the first time everything was big and exciting.”
While attending Oklahoma Baptist University, he began trading stocks as well as importing and exporting goods. “I imported silk ties from China,” Wey said. “I sold 1,000 of those ties to school programs and to wholesalers. I sold sugar from Brazil to the Chinese. I sold fake Levi jeans from China to the Russian markets.”
Wey eventually moved to New York, obtaining two graduate degrees from Columbia University and founding the New York Global Group, an investment group specializing in bringing companies from China onto U.S. stock exchanges. Wey’s companies specialized in reverse mergers, a controversial practice.
“Basically a Chinese company would purchase a defunct or dying American company (‘merging’ with it) and adopt its ticker symbol,” CNBC explained. “This method allowed these companies to sidestep the usual IPO vetting process. And that led to a lot of dubious accounting and business claims.”
In a 2011 profile, Wey told Bloomberg that he agreed to assist only 1 percent of the companies that approached him. “There’s a lot of traps to try to avoid,” he said.
But the next year, the FBI raided New York Global Group as part of a crackdown on Chinese reverse mergers. Wey has not been charged with a crime, however.
Less is known about Bouveng, a beautiful 25-year-old brunette raised in the small town of Vetlanda, Sweden.
“Her dream, her career, was to be on Wall Street,” her attorney, David Ratner, told the federal jury.
When the two met at the Hamptons party, Wey offered to make that dream a reality. He hired Bouveng as his assistant in the summer of 2013 on just $1,800 a month, or less than $22,000 for the year.
Bouveng quickly got a raise to a more respectable $2,500 a month thanks to Wey’s wife, Michaela, a Czech whom he had met in Oklahoma when she was a Denny’s waitress, the New York Post reported.
“I thought Ms. Bouveng would struggle, and I thought it would be fair to raise it to higher amount so she would be comfortable and could focus on her work,” Michaela Wey told a jury. She also gave her husband permission to pay for Bouveng to live in a $3,600-per-month apartment in the Financial District.
“Ms. Bouveng could be closer to the office, focus on work and bring him more deals. I said okay,” Michaela Wey said. “He told me that it was good for the business.”
But Benjamin Wey had more on his mind than business, the suit alleged. He began pushing his new hire to have sex with him, buying her gifts and bringing her on business trips only to book a single room, according to Bouveng’s lawsuit and court testimony.
The expensive apartment, meanwhile, would become the scene for an awkward — and ultimately costly — sexual encounter between the boss and his new hire, according to Bouveng.
One night in January 2014, while Wey was negotiating a deal using Bouveng’s connections in Sweden, he took her to dinner, plied her with drinks and gave her a $2,000 Prada bag, according to her lawsuit. (“I told him I would have preferred cash,” she recalled in court, according to Newsday.)
Then they went back to the fancy apartment.
“He puts her on the bed and he has sex with her and it’s over in 2 minutes,” Ratner said. “She was debased. She was degraded. She was defiled. He was delighted. … He thought he owned her.”
Bouveng felt “used and weak” after the incident, she testified.
Things only got worse, however, Bouveng alleged. Wey allegedly pressured her to have sex three more times, even promising to leave his wife for her, according to Bouveng’s lawsuit.
“I’m not happy at home. We sleep in different bedrooms. I have not kissed anyone in 10 years, [and] I’m romantic, but my wife is cold,” he told the model, according to court documents. “I’ll leave Michaela for you if you just say so…. I want to change my life for you. I want a divorce.”
But Bouveng wasn’t completely under Wey’s control. And her life outside of work — and Wey — enraged him.
“If I went to dinner and social events with him, if I did that, he would be happy and treat me well,” Bouveng later testified. “But if I said I was going to dinner with friends, he would get upset and pout.”
When Bouveng balked at having sex with Wey, the Wall Street tycoon threatened to boot her from the business, she claimed.
“He wanted to have sex again and I said, ‘No,’ and he got very pouty and then he said he would have to think about my role in the company,” she said in court. “He said if I didn’t spend more time with him, he would have to start looking for someone else. He said if I didn’t show him tangible love, he was kicking me out by Aug. 1.”
Wey was particularly upset about her dating a man named James Chauvet. In April 2014, Wey sent Bouveng’s father e-mails complaining about the young club promoter, the suit alleged.
“Hanna being with Mr. Chauvet cheapens her and hurts your image,” Wey wrote, according to court documents reported by the New York Daily News. “Do you think our customers like to see my assistant and close friend with a late night partier like this?”
A couple of days later, Wey became outraged after finding Chauvet naked in Bouveng’s bed.
“I saw a 6-foot-tall homeless black man named James lying on her bed,” Wey wrote to Bouveng’s father, according to evidence at the trial. “The man was totally naked, dirty, totally drunk and perhaps on illegal drugs.”
Later that day, Wey fired Bouveng and kicked her out of the apartment.
“He screamed, ‘You f—– bitch, I’m going to revoke your visa today,” Bouveng claimed in court.
The Swede sued her former boss for $850 million in July 2014, but the lawsuit only escalated the alleged harassment, she said.
On a blog he owned called TheBlot, Wey posted articles about Bouveng and her boyfriend, according to testimony. “The Pimp and the Sex Slave? Meet Criminal James Chauvet and Party Girl Hanna Bouveng,” ran one headline right above a picture of the couple. The article also claimed Bouveng had been “walking the streets of Hong Kong and entertaining visitors to the massage parlors.”
The alleged harassment got so bad that Bouveng fled back to her native country, but Wey tracked her down. A few months after firing her, he walked into the Stockholm cafe where she was working.
The visit “felt like an intent to destroy whatever I would do,” she testified in court, alleging that her former boss also sent “detectives” to “stalk” her.
“I’m so scared he is going to send people after me,” she said during one court hearing. “I feel so violated of my own freedom.”
“The message was: ‘Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I am going to find you and I am going to get you,” her attorney, Ratner, said. “She used to be sociable…. Now she is afraid to tell people her last name.”
Wey did admit to visiting her cafe in Stockholm and persistently sending her messages, including a pornographic picture of a black sex toy being used on a white woman. “I’m so shameful even to bring this up,” he said in court when asked about the incident before describing with teary eyes how his Wall Street life had been tamed by media coverage of the scandalous lawsuit.
“My name was trash,” he said. “It changed my life.”
His attorney, Glenn Colton, admitted in court that Wey had written “nasty” articles and “made mistakes,” but argued that Bouveng was “extorting” his client.
Chauvet, for his part, said during the trial that it was a case of jealousy, pure and simple.
“He’s obsessed,” he said of Wey. “How could a guy like me have a girl like that when he has all the money?”
On Monday, the eight-person jury awarded Bouveng $18 million for sexual harassment, retaliation and defamation claims, but rejected her allegations of assault and battery, Reuters reported. The award included $2 million in compensatory damages and $16 million in punitive damages.
On Twitter, however, Wey spun the court decision as a positive result.
— Benjamin Wey ® (@WeyBenjamin) June 30, 2015
Bouveng hasn’t commented on her big court win. But from her trial testimony, it sounds like it could be a Pyrrhic victory.
“I lost a lot of friends and people don’t want to be around me anymore. I really don’t want to go out and see people either,” she said. “I have applied for jobs but I don’t feel as confident as I did before. It’s been a tough year.”
Correction: The original version of this incorrectly quoted Wey’s response in court testimony with regard to the sex toy picture. He said “I’m so shameful even to bring this up,” according to a transcript, rather than “I’m so shameful for you to bring that up.”
Clarification: The original version of this article and its headline referenced “The Wolf of Wall Street” when referring to Benjamin Wey. Wey has since complained in an e-mail that he regards the term “wolf” as “racially charged.” While that was not the intent of the reference, we deleted it on July 30.