Attorneys for Bryan Singer and Garth Ancier blast 'An Open Secret's' reliance on credibility-challenged accuser Michael Egan, while others, including one of the film's interview subjects, dispute the film's claim of teen sex parties at an Encino mansion
Lawyers for X-Men director Bryan Singer and television executive Garth Ancier have blasted director Amy Berg for relying on Hollywood sex accuser Michael Egan in her new documentary on Hollywood male-on-male teen sex abuse, An Open Secret, labeling Egan a "liar" based on inconsistencies between his now-withdrawn sex abuse lawsuits and his own prior sworn statements, as well as the reprimand he received from a federal judge last month for lying in court.
Those prior statements came in connection with an earlier lawsuit, filed in 2000 by Egan and two others, Mark Ryan and Alex Burton, but I have learned that Burton swore under oath six months ago in a declaration that Egan's 2014 suits were "claims based on lies."
The film, which screened recently at a film festival in New York, also came under criticism by former staff, guests and a resident of the Encino estate at the heart of Egan's allegations. They contend that, contrary to claims in Berg's film - and to rumors - there were never any teen sex parties at all at the estate, which was owned by Marc Collins-Rector, the founder of a now-defunct Internet company, Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), who was later convicted on teen sex abuse charges for conduct that predated DEN.
Berg is currently working on a project about Ferguson called "American Race: A Film on the Black Male Crisis."
One of the witnesses who spoke to me is an interview subject in An Open Secret itself, Chris Turcotte. He says he told Berg that there were never any sex parties at the estate and finds it misleading that Berg omitted that portion of his interview from the film. He also says Berg told him a week ago that she did not have confidence in Egan's story - a claim which runs counter to what Berg has said publicly.
Turcotte did say, however, that Collins-Rector had sex at the estate with underage teens, but in private, not as part of sex parties.
In addition, Egan's own 2000 lawsuit, while alleging sexual abuse, also fails to mention the sex parties that he now describes in the film. One of the earliest in depth articles on the DEN sex scandal also makes no mention of sex parties. Yet in the film, Egan says that during parties "they would pull away the better-looking younger kids and keep them for their own afterparty" where skinny-dipping was mandatory.
The Encino estate, and a Hawaii estate that Collins-Rector and others in his social circle visited, are where Egan said in recent suits he was abused from 1997 to 1999 by Singer, Ancier, television executive David Neuman and producer Gary Goddard, all of whom denied the allegations. The film does not reiterate Egan's claims against the four but it mentions their names, reciting in a text slide at the end that Egan had sued them earlier this year, then dropped the suits using a process under which he retained the right to refile.
Film Silent as Egan's Credibility Questioned
What the text slide fails to say is that the withdrawals - of eight separate suits, filed in Hawaii and Los Angeles - came after credibility issues surfaced based on Egan's statements in the 2000 suit, which alleged sexual abuse during much the same time period at the same Encino mansion. Indeed, the 2014 suit reiterated the allegations of the 2000 suit as background.
However, the 2000 suit didn't mention Singer, Goddard, Ancier or Neuman, which raised doubts for some observers about the 2014 suits, given the identical location, similar time frame, and identical DEN personalities. Neuman's omission from the 2000 suit is particularly noteworthy, since he, like the 2000 defendants, was a DEN executive - in fact, president - at the time. Egan's lawyers declined to explain the omissions to The Hollywood Reporter despite one of them, Jeff Herman, having publicly promised to do so.
But even more serious problems for Egan became apparent a few weeks after the new suits were filed, when documents emerged showing that Egan had sworn under oath in 2003 that he had never been to Hawaii, that no one had abused him other than the three DEN executives he was then suing, and that in particular, Neuman had never abused him.
"Amy Berg is conveniently downplaying the dismissal of Michael Egan's lawsuit against Garth Ancier, while failing to note Mr. Egan was exposed as a liar by his own words from previous sworn testimony," said Ancier's attorney, Louise Ann Fernandez, in a statement. "Given Mr. Egan's total lack of credibility ... it is irresponsible and reckless for Ms. Berg to even hint that Mr. Egan can successfully resuscitate his complaint."
Berg and a representative did not respond to requests for comment, but Berg previously told THR that she believes in Egan. Despite mentioning the 2014 litigation in the text slide - and including footage of Egan's press conference announcing the suit against Singer - she said at the screening, "we don't know about the case, this isn't about the case."
But a tweet from her film's executive producer Matthew Valentinas shows that at least one person on the film's team knew about the case and Egan's credibility problems: "Judge Scolds Hollywood Sex Accuser for Lying in Court," reads the message. It's a retweet of a THR story, which discusses not only a recent courtroom incident, but also the inconsistencies between Egan's 2014 suits and his prior sworn statements.
And although Berg told THR in an exclusive interview days before the screening that she had worked with Egan starting about two years ago, she said, "I don't know the ins and outs of the various suits" - this despite the fact that the 2014 suits concerned the same alleged victim and misconduct, the same Encino estate and social circle, and an overlapping time frame as those featured in her film, and that the 2014 suits reiterated the 2000 allegations, some of which the film recounts.
Egan Admonished for Lying in Court
Also unmentioned in the film is the fact that Ancier has sued Egan, attorney Herman and Egan's Hawaii counsel for malicious prosecution. A hearing in the malicious prosecution case is scheduled for December 2. It was at an earlier hearing that judge J. Michael Seabright admonished Egan "not to lie to me" after Egan claimed in court not to have received assistance with his legal papers.
That claim, said the judge, was on its face "not true," since the documents had been emailed from an Orange County law firm, Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, which specializes in child sexual abuse cases.
"So be truthful," said Seabright. "I am," responded Egan, to which the judge replied, "Well, no, you weren't."
"I'm not buying this," added Seabright after some further back and forth. "I'm a smart guy, I get it, and don't underestimate me."
Ultimately, Egan admitted to the judge that the papers had in fact been prepared and filed by the firm, which has since dropped him (as had Herman, after Egan's credibility problems emerged and after Ancier filed suit).
None of this is mentioned in the film either. But in a behind the scenes connection, the law firm's name partner John Manley appears in Berg's 2005 documentary Deliver Us from Evil, about child sex abuse by Catholic priests.
Reacting to Berg's newer film, Singer's attorney Marty Singer (no relation) said in a statement, "Michael Egan is a proven liar." He added that Egan has "shown that he won't hesitate to lie under oath or say anything as part of his increasingly desperate attempts for money."
Egan did not respond to a request for comment.
Even the 2000 suit was called into question, a decade ago. Melvin Berman, a personal chef at the Encino mansion, said in a 2004 deposition in the case that Egan and Burton offered to give him half of any recovery from the lawsuit if Berman would help them in some unspecified way. Berman added that he didn't believe that Egan and Burton had actually been abused.
Berg pointed out in her THR interview that Egan's account is "only one aspect of the story. It's a much greater issue. When you meet the victims and see how prevalent this problem is, it's difficult to ignore." Indeed, no one has called into question the integrity of the portions of the film that are not about Egan and DEN.
However, although much of Berg's film is not about Egan, he does have a prominent role. The film focuses mostly on two settings of alleged abuse: the Encino mansion in which DEN founders Collins-Rector and Chad Shackley lived from 1997 to 2000, and another setting - unrelated to Egan or DEN - involving a child-actor manager who was convicted of abuse. Two other managers are depicted as well.
The Encino mansion, the so-called M&C Estate, is central to the film and Egan's allegations, and it has a backstory. Collins-Rector, Shackley, and a third oft-time resident of the house, DEN executive and former child actor Brock Pierce, were the defendants in the 2000 suit brought by Egan, Burton and Ryan for abuse that they said occurred at the estate beginning in the late 1990s.
Multiple Lawsuits, and a Tangled History
The year 2000 was not first time Collins-Rector was sued on child sex allegations. A year earlier, a boy from New Jersey who had met Collins-Rector at age 13 had sued, alleging sexual abuse from 1993 to 1996. Denying the allegations, Collins-Rector settled for an undisclosed sum, asserting that he was paying only because he wanted to avoid controversy before DEN's upcoming IPO (which was later withdrawn).
Indeed, according to Berman, the M&C Estate chef, Collins-Rector's decision to settle the New Jersey suit inspired Egan and Burton to sue. "It's my understanding that they got wind of this and figured out wow, three weeks for a few million dollars, why not," he said in his 2004 deposition.
But back in 2000, before the suit proceeded to depositions, Collins-Rector, Shackley and Pierce fled the country after Collins-Rector was indicted on child sex charges relating to allegations that predated the trio's time at the M&C Estate. Ultimately, all three returned to the U.S. - Collins-Rector via extradition - where Collins-Rector struck a plea bargain, spent a short time in prison and emerged as a registered sex offender. Shackley and Pierce were not charged with any crime.
Egan, Burton and Ryan obtained a default judgment against Collins-Rector and Shackley which the court docket indicates was never paid. Ryan and Burton dismissed their cases against Pierce without payment. A 2004 letter from Egan to his then lawyer said that Egan too wanted to drop the case against Pierce and complained that the lawyer was pressuring him not to do so. After Egan secured different counsel, Pierce was able to finalize a settlement with him by paying what Pierce told me was $21,000, to cover Egan's first lawyer's out of pocket expenses.
Film's Accuracy Challenged
In the wake of Berg's film alleging teen sex parties a decade and a half ago, witnesses have come forward at Pierce's urging and have told me that such parties never actually happened.
"That's a lie," said Robert Bassiri of claims that teen sex parties occurred. Bassiri, a celebrity chef who was a chef and estate manager at the M&C Estate, is a Navy veteran who describes himself as "120 percent straight" and said that even adult gay sexuality makes him uncomfortable because he doesn't "live that lifestyle." He said he has no tolerance for child sexual abuse. "I will beat the s‑‑t out of anybody f‑‑king with a kid," he said. "If there was anything inappropriate [at the house], I would have beat the s‑‑t out of them."
"I don't like Bryan [Singer] too much," Bassiri continued (citing discourtesy and a "stuck up Hollywood attitude"), "but the guy didn't do anything."
Egan did come to the house frequently, though, he said. "Michael's mom called twenty times a day," Bassiri said, "dropped him off, picked him up. They had to stop Egan from coming over, he wanted to come over all the time. ... He begged to stay the night." According to Bassiri, Egan was jealous of the wealth on display at the mansion and thought himself entitled to it. And that, he said, led to the lawsuits.
"This is the backlash they get," said Bassiri. "It's so f‑‑king outrageous."
Egan's former co-plaintiff Burton too has said - in a May 2014 sworn declaration filed by Singer's attorneys - "I feel it is wrong for Mr. Egan to make claims based on lies, and the claim that he and Mr. Singer were on the 1999 trips to Hawaii with Messrs. Collins-Rector and Shackley is simply untrue." (The declaration is signed in a different last name, but I have obtained a 2001 Minnesota court record documenting Burton's name change.)
Turcotte, an interview subject in the film, told me that Egan "has an inability to tell the truth. You couldn't trust him if you asked what color the sky was." He said he told Berg during his interview for the film that there were never any sex parties at the M&C Estate - Berg does not include this interview footage in her film - and also said that "Egan asked me to go along with [the suit] and I'd get a payout."
Turcotte did tell me, however, that Collins-Rector would have sex with underage teens, generally at night, throughout the house - "in the hot tub, theatre, sauna, it was going on everywhere" - but that Collins-Rector "isolated his victims" and neither Shackley nor Pierce, nor Singer, Goddard, Ancier or Neuman, were ever involved.
Several other sources - estate manager John Trujillo, actress Tiffany Glass, Pierce and a third estate manager speaking on condition of anonymity - also said that there were no teen sex parties at the house. Trujillo called Egan "conniving" and said he was "using and abusing people's resources," taking a Jeep from the house for a weekend without permission and attempting to persuade Trujillo falsely that Collins-Rector had granted him permission to drive the Lamborghini parked in the estate's garage.
All of that is contrary to and/or absent from Berg's film and her reliance on Egan. In her THR interview, Berg said, "[Egan] was at those parties. His story was not unique. So many other kids had the exact same stories with the same details."
But Pierce asserts that Berg isn't interested in hearing anything that might disturb her faith in Egan and has failed to return his phone calls and blocked him on Facebook when he tried to contact her. In an email to Berg last week he wrote, "You have ignored the truth, you have filtered out relevant evidence, you have been, so far, an accomplice to shameless character assassination, and by supporting a liar you are actually making it harder for legitimate victims of abuse to seek justice."
Added Pierce, "You're afraid I'll tell you the truth, and if I do, you've just wasted two and a half years of your life, working on a story that is a horrible lie." What Berg would say to that is impossible to know, because as indicated above, she and her representative did not respond to requests for comment.