Abercrombie & Fitch was accused in a lawsuit of enabling former chief Mike Jeffries to run an alleged sex-trafficking operation for years.
Jeffries ran Abercrombie from 1992 until 2014 and built the brand into a global fashion giant around sexualized marketing. The CEO allegedly used promises of a job at Abercrombie to lure young men to locations around the world and coerced them to have sex with him and others, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Manhattan federal court. The complaint follows a recent BBC investigation where several men made similar claims against Jeffries.
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A spokeswoman for Abercrombie declined to comment on the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified financial damages. Abercrombie said earlier this month that it had engaged an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations and that the company was "appalled and disgusted" by them.
The lawsuit was brought by David Bradberry, who alleged that Jeffries victimized men with the help of a network of co-conspirators that included Abercrombie. The suit, which is seeking class-action status, estimated "dozens and likely over a hundred young models" were victims.
Bradberry’s lawyers also represented Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers who sued JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank earlier this year. Both banks, which were accused of facilitating Epstein’s sex trafficking, reached settlements totaling around $365 million without admitting wrongdoing.
Abercrombie profited from the exploitation of young men, said Brad Edwards, a lawyer for Bradberry, adding that the company had a "willingness to enable a sexually abusive and exploitative environment to drive profits."
The suit against Abercrombie also named the 79-year-old Jeffries, the former CEO’s family office, and Jeffries’ partner Matthew Smith as co-defendants. The lawsuit said Jeffries relied on Abercrombie resources to carry out the scheme, and the company allowed him to pay "hush money" to victims using company funds. It also said Jeffries’ partner had deep and unusual connections to the company, with Smith attending private board meetings, having access to internal documents and making about 170 visits to stores over a more than two-year period.
"Mr. Jeffries will not comment in the press on this new lawsuit as he has likewise chosen not to regarding lawsuits in the past. The courtroom is where we will deal with this matter," said Brian Bieber, a lawyer for Jeffries. Smith didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Executives at the company, which has about 760 stores across brands including Hollister, have worked for several years to reinvent the namesake Abercrombie brand since Jeffries’ departure. Since 2017, the CEO has been Fran Horowitz, who joined the company in 2014.
Jeffries took the helm in 1992 when Abercrombie & Fitch was part of Leslie Wexner’s retail empire, which included Victoria’s Secret. Wexner hired the retail veteran to revamp what was then a money-losing brand that he had purchased in 1988.
Under Jeffries’ leadership, Abercrombie created a "Look Book" of rules for stores and hired college students to staff them. The company used sexually themed ads and shirtless male greeters to create a cult following with teens, who clamored for its logo-emblazoned T-shirts and sweatshirts. Jeffries stepped down in December 2014 following a string of poor results.
The BBC recently published an investigation that found a highly organized network employed middlemen to track down young men for sex events around the world with Jeffries and Smith. Some of those young men, including Bradberry, accused Jeffries and other men of sexual assault, according to the BBC’s reporting.
Bradberry said in the lawsuit he was approached in 2010 by a man who presented himself as an agent allegedly for young stars. The agent arranged a meeting with a modeling scout who told him that unless he allowed the scout to perform oral sex on him, he wouldn’t get a meeting with Jeffries. After the sex act, the scout allegedly gave Bradberry cash. Bradberry later was invited to casting events where he was sexually assaulted by Jeffries and others, the lawsuit claims.
Ahead of a casting event around May 2010, Bradberry allegedly was provided with Abercrombie gift cards where he was instructed to pick up clothes for himself. He also alleged he received prepaid travel instructions and was told to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
At Jeffries’ home in the Hamptons, the lawsuit said, Jeffries and Smith undressed in a room where other men were having sex, and Jeffries forced Bradberry to take a drug that made him lightheaded. Bradberry alleged that he was raped by Jeffries and forced to have sex with other men, while security guards in Abercrombie attire observed the activity.
Bradberry received $2,500 in cash and was then taken to other casting events in locations including Nice, France, and London—events that he thought would lead to a contract from Abercrombie, according to the suit. Instead, he said he was assaulted again. Bradberry wasn’t hired to work for Abercrombie, his lawyer said.
The lawsuit comes after the company has paid other settlements stemming from Jeffries’ tenure. In 2004, Abercrombie agreed to pay $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that said it had discriminated against Black, Hispanic and Asian employees related to a specific look that Jeffries preferred for store workers. The company agreed to implement programs and initiatives aimed at achieving greater diversity throughout its stores. It didn’t admit guilt in the settlement.
In 2012, Abercrombie settled an age-discrimination suit brought by a former jet pilot in 2010. Documents from the suit revealed that Jeffries and Smith established aircraft standards, including a dress code calling for boxer briefs for men, jeans being worn at the hips and an Abercrombie cologne.
Abercrombie & Fitch