The former CEO of American clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jeffries, is facing multiple allegations of sexual exploitation, a damning BBC News report has revealed.
The two-year investigation, outlined in the Panorama special, The Abercrombie Guys: The Dark Side of Cool, found Mr Jeffries and his partner, Matthew Smith, allegedly facilitated the recruitment of young men – many of them aspiring models – for international events, where they are said to have coerced them into sex acts.
The BBC spoke to eight men who claimed to have either attended or organised sex events for the couple between 2009 and 2015, taking place at Mr Jeffries’s New York residences, and at luxury hotels in Venice, Paris, London and Marrakech.
The men were allegedly offered opportunities to model for the brand via a “middleman”, identified by the outlet as James “Jim” Jacobson, only for said opportunities to be sexual in nature.
Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith did not respond to the BBC’s repeated requests for comment. Mr Jacobson, meanwhile, denied all wrongdoing in a statement via his lawyer.
The now-70-year-old said he took offence at the suggestion of “any coercive, deceptive or forceful behaviour on my part” and had “no knowledge of any such conduct by others”.
“Any encounter I had was fully consensual, not coercive,” Mr Jacobson said.
“Everyone I came into contact with who attended these events went in with their eyes wide open.”
Abercrombie & Fitch, which has in the past described Mr Jeffries as its modern-day founder, told the BBC it was “appalled and disgusted” by his alleged behaviour.
It said new leadership has transformed the company into “the values-driven organisation we are today” and it has “zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind”.
One model, David Bradberry, told the publication the sexual coercion began at the recruitment level. He said he was first introduced to Mr Jacobson in 2010, when he was 23, and alleged he was later pressured into a sex act during a meeting with him.
“Jim made it clear to me that unless I let him perform oral sex on me, that I would not be meeting with Abercrombie & Fitch or Mike Jeffries,” Mr Bradberry said.
The interaction left him feeling “paralysed”, and he later recalled Mr Jacobson giving him $500 for his time.
“It was like he was selling fame. And the price was compliance.”
Mr Bradberry later accepted an invitation to an event at Mr Jeffries’s former Hamptons home, where he spoke to the couple about his hopes of becoming an Abercrombie & Fitch model.
He alleged Mr Jeffries later held poppers (a liquid drug) under his nose and had sex with him.
Mr Bradberry said he did not feel comfortable saying no to Mr Jeffries, who he regarded as a “powerful man” who could “make his career”.
Other men interviewed by the BBC described a similar pattern of exploitation, alleging they were sexually “auditioned” by Mr Jacobson before being introduced to Mr Jeffries and Mr Smith.
Another man, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said he attended a 2011 event in Marrakech as a dancer, and alleged Jacobson demanded oral sex from him at his audition. Mr Jeffries also tried to kiss him without his consent at the event, he said.
The man later fell asleep in a hotel backroom, and woke up to find a condom inside of him, leading him to believe his drink had been spiked.
“I believe there is a very good possibility I was drugged and raped,” he said.
“I’ll probably never, never know for sure the answer of what happened.”
All of the accusers said they were required to sign nondisclosure agreements, but were barred from keeping copies.
“It felt like they were trying to scare us with some kind of [bullsh*t] legal document, that’s what it felt like. It felt like intimidation,” Mr Bradberry said.
Lawyer Brad Edwards, who examined the BBC’s evidence, said US prosecutors should investigate if what these “brave men” describe could be classified as sex trafficking.
“Given the stories … that have come forward, I think it’s very important that federal prosecutors look into this case,” he said.