by Michael Daly · October 10, 2017
How detectives laid a trap to catch the movie mogul after an Italian model accused him of groping her—and why charges were never brought.
Harvey Weinstein had no sooner apologized to the 22-year-old woman who had accused him of groping her than he seemed ready to do it again.
“After he apologized, he said, ‘Listen, come up to my room,’” an NYPD commander with direct knowledge of the case says.
Ambra Battilana excused herself to use the restroom and she was met by a detective from the special victims unit, which had been using two cellphones to record this March 28, 2015, meeting in the bar/restaurant at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in downtown Manhattan. Battilana seemed close to panic. The detective promised her that she would be safely under protective surveillance if she went along with Weinstein’s request.
Battilana agreed and headed upstairs with Weinstein. The detectives were close behind, ready to move in immediately if Weinstein tried to grope her again as she alleged he had earlier. He would have been caught in the act.
But Battilana suddenly backed away and departed.
“She got scared,” the police commander says.
Battilana returned downstairs. Weinstein joined her. The detectives moved in. They took him away for questioning that immediately ceased when he asked for a lawyer, in particular an attorney from the firm whose partners included former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. A Weinstein spokeswoman would deny the allegations.
The detectives were still able to bring the Manhattan district attorney’s office a case that was considerably stronger than is routinely needed to convict less illustrious gropers in the subway.
As Battilana told it, she had met Weinstein at the New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall on the previous Thursday, March 26. She said he had invited her to visit him at his office in Tribeca the next day.
She had accepted and arrived around 6 p.m. Weinstein’s assistant had escorted her into his office and then left the two alone. Their talk took a sudden turn when Weinstein asked Battilana if her breasts were real, she said. He supposedly groped her and stuck his hand under her skirt and asked for a kiss.
Battilana fled, and a surveillance camera reportedly shows her leaving the building 31 minutes after she arrived. She contacted a friend, who took her to the 9th Precinct, the stationhouse nearest the apartment where she had been staying after coming to New York from Italy. She arrived looking very much like a woman who had just been groped.
“Distraught, upset,” the NYPD commander would later say.
Since Weinstein’s office is in the 1st Precinct, police took her to that station house. She was there interviewed by the special victims unit. The SVU detectives spoke to her about making a recorded “controlled call,” a common strategy in which the victim telephones the suspect with the hope he will incriminate himself.
But before they could make that call, Battilana’s phone rang. Weinstein was calling.
At the detectives’ urging, Battilana agreed to meet him the next day in the bar/restaurant area at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. He seems to have comped her a ticket to see his Broadway show Finding Neverland in the meantime.
The SVU detectives took up position before the appointed hour. She seems to have passed the time waiting for him in the way of a 22-year-old, by taking and posting on Instagram a photo of a hotel water glass.
“Having a Drink. Aka #water. #WaterOnly,” she wrote.
The detectives were watching and recording as Weinstein sat down with her and spoke of their encounter in his office.
“He basically apologized for what he did,” the NYPD commander reports.
Then, the commander says, Weinstein had no sooner uttered the apology than he asked her up to his room.
“Just to show you how incorrigible the guy is,” the NYPD commander says.
The very timing of the invitation should have told the district attorney’s office that it was dealing with a groper as compulsive as any in the subway.
But by several accounts the Manhattan district attorney’s office was still feeling the aftershocks of the disastrous Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in 2011. The French politician—then managing director of the International Monetary Fund—was accused of raping a hotel maid. The DA’s office moved to prosecute Strauss-Kahn, only to drop the charges after deciding that the witness was not sufficiently credible.
Since then, the DA had seemed to knowledgeable observers to be leery of another high-profile debacle. That worry could have only increased as prosecutors learned that Battilana had accused a wealthy elderly boyfriend in Italy of forcing her into sex when she was just 17. She had also figured in the prosecution of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, testifying that she had witnessed one of his “bunga bunga” sex parties when she was 19.
At the prospect of her now figuring as the victim in a case against a high-profile figure such as Harvey Weinstein, the DA’s office seemed to hesitate. The DA’s office asked the SVU questions and the SVU answered them and the DA’s office asked more questions that the SVU also answered.
“They knocked it around about a week, back and forth,” the NYPD commander says.
The DA’s office finally reached an official determination, following what a spokesman rightly described as “a thorough investigation.”
“After analyzing the available evidence, including multiple interviews with both parties, a criminal charge is not supported,” the spokeswoman announced.
The NYPD commander offers a different analysis based on long experience.
“When you say no after a week, it’s not usually over the facts,” he suggests.
Hesitation by prosecutors does not engender confidence in victims. Battilana had initially seemed sure of a speedy resolution, posting on Instagram three days after the alleged groping, “Don’t stop dreaming just because you had a nightmare.” She seems to have afterward lost faith in the system and is said to have reached a monetary settlement with Weinstein, apparently leaving town so she was unavailable and signing a nondisclosure agreement.
“They paid her off,” says someone with inside knowledge of the Weinstein response to the incident.
A Weinstein spokeswoman would said simply, “We are pleased this episode is behind us.”
Harvey Weinstein was allowed just to keep on being Harvey Weinstein. And the absence of consequences seemed to mark a dispiriting distance between the sparkling heights where a movie mogul partied on and the underground gloom where subway gropers were routinely collared and subsequently convicted on considerably less evidence than a recorded apology.
But Weinstein seems to have been as incorrigible as he appeared to be that day in a Manhattan hotel, and now that it is all catching up with him, the distance between him and the subterranean pervs seems to mark the height of his fall.
As for Ambra Battilana, she is now 24 and has continued on with a career as model. She has reportedly sold her life rights for a movie based on her experiences in Italy; Harvey Weinstein is not producing.
“Push me down and I’ll go much more up,” she tweets.