Evan Henzi, and another of the movie's subjects, Chris Turcotte, call the documentary "unfair" and "dishonest," and the producer responds by threatening to sue Henzi and spreading - or creating - a false rumor of drug abuse.
The multi-millionaire hedge fund manager and producer of the Hollywood teen sex abuse documentary An Open Secret, Gabe Hoffman, who previously filed an arbitration against the film's director, threatened last Tuesday to sue a sex abuse victim depicted in the film, Evan Henzi, after the 22-year old Henzi came forward to tell this reporter about alleged distortions in the film and goings-on behind the scenes.
In addition, Hoffman called Henzi's father and claimed to have heard a rumor that Henzi was doing drugs.
"Our clients are not going sit idly by if you do not take immediate steps to rectify the flagrant breach of your confidentiality agreement," reads the email from Greenberg Glusker litigator Charles Shephard, referring to a clause in the depiction release Henzi signed. "Even if the things you told Mr. Handel were true (and, as we understand it, much of them are not), you are in breach of contract."
"If you want to avoid our clients pursing legal claims against you," continues the email (full text at end of this article), "we hereby demand that you ... insist that Mr. Handel not use any of the material or information you provided."
Hoffman followed this up in a conversation the next day with Henzi's father, in which he claimed that he heard a rumor that Henzi was using drugs - and offered to pay for Henzi's "treatment." (For the record, Henzi assured this reporter that he was not doing drugs and even offered to be tested.) UPDATE: After this article was published, this reporter was informed that Hoffman once again contacted Henzi's father, leaving a voice mail that referenced drug abuse.
The threats and rumor-mongering from Hoffman and his company, Esponda Productions, came despite a claim from his partner, Matthew Valentinas, that "we do not fear criticism." That seems to fly in the face of their behavior, including an earlier decision by Hoffman to engage a private detective agency to investigate another critic, Gregg Schneider.
Henzi, who previously faced down a man who abused him starting at age 11, is undeterred. "For me, it's just about truth," he said. "They can't take my soul."
But they can take his voice. The litigation threat may be merely a bully's saber-rattling, but rather than subject Henzi to possible suit, portions of this article have been deleted to reduce his potential exposure to oppressive litigation. All deletions in the article - such as [three words deleted] - are for this reason.
For months, Hoffman and Valentinas used Henzi as a face of the film's promotional efforts domestically and abroad in the absence of director Amy Berg, who did little press for the movie and didn't attend its Los Angeles premiere. But as Henzi spent untold hours talking with, texting and emailing another of the film's subjects, Michael Egan, he began to distrust him. He also came to question the filmmakers' depiction of [three words deleted], and ultimately broke with the producers.
"An Open Secret is an unfair look at the problem [of child molestation in Hollywood] because the filmmakers [five words deleted] when in some cases - in my opinion - they have no idea if [six words deleted]," said Henzi. "They wanted more, they wanted a 'story,' they wanted a huge [four words deleted] - they wanted [twelve words deleted]. But they didn't have [two words deleted] to my knowledge."
Valentinas and Berg did not respond to a detailed request for comment on this article, while Hoffman responded only to a few questions - but, except in one instance, all he provided were evasions and counter-questions.
Henzi added, "Everything fell apart and now these guys' reputations are destroyed," referring to Bryan Singer and three others whom Egan sued last year for teen sex abuse that allegedly took place in 1999. "I apologize - to all of the men that Mike Egan falsely accused - for promoting An Open Secret. I feel Mike Egan is a con artist, took advantage of the situation of me being a real victim of sexual abuse and used my life experience to justify his lies."
Countersuits for malicious prosecution filed by two of the other targets, television executives Garth Ancier and David Neuman, led to a seven-figure settlement and admissions by Egan's former lawyers Jeff Herman and Mark Gallagher that the allegations were untrue. Egan continues as a defendant in the countersuits. A federal judge scolded him over a year ago for lying to his face and a federal magistrate judge recently ruled that Egan has not shown "a likelihood of success on the merits."
Meanwhile Egan separately demanded [four words deleted] from Herman, according to [five words deleted].
A version of An Open Secret that screened at the DOC NYC festival last November included references to Egan's allegations against Singer, Ancier, Neuman and Gary Goddard, but those references were cut prior to the film's small commercial release - and while Ancier's countersuit was pending. Hoffman has denied any legal pressure, but [deleted] said [seven words deleted], "[eleven words deleted]." He/she added, "[eighteen words deleted]" and later wrote, "[sixteen words deleted]," [five words deleted] then-pending federal fraud charges against Egan, who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is now awaiting sentencing.
Ultimately, the producers, not Berg, supervised the re-edits, according to a public report. UPDATE: Hoffman told this reporter that this was due to Berg's "hectic production schedule" and that there were collaborative discussions between Berg and the producers regarding the edits.
Notwithstanding the cuts - and Egan's numerous credibility issues - he remains in the movie as a narrator of alleged abuse purportedly suffered by others and as the linchpin of the film's claim that there is an organized and powerful Hollywood "pedophile ring," in the words of the film's narrator, John Connolly - or "six degrees of pedophiles," as Valentinas put it in a recent interview. Connolly did not respond to a request for comment.
Also of concern to the openly-gay Henzi is the film's exclusive focus on male-on-male abuse. "I feel discomfort with that because it points to homophobia, and just using the vulnerabilities of older gay men," said Henzi. "Many right wing and Christian groups believe that being gay or accepting gays is a door into accepting pedophilia, and the film was insensitive to that."
In addition, although Henzi's agreement with Berg's Disarming Films gave him [18 words deleted], he says [six words deleted] despite his calls to the production office.
Nonetheless, Henzi is generally satisfied with his own portrayal in the film, save for a scene that depicts [nine words deleted]. That depiction relies on [five words deleted], but he says that Berg simply [fifteen words deleted]. "She included the one that fit her storyline," he said.
Another subject of the film, Turcotte, has a similar criticism, and is not happy at all with his portrayal. Calling Berg "deceitful and dishonest," he alleges she used manipulation and "editing tricks" in working with his interview footage. Turcotte, who lived as a minor at the Encino estate at the heart of Egan's allegations, blasted Egan for "outright lies," and said that he (Turcotte) appeared in An Open Secret on condition that Berg not imply that Turcotte was buttressing Egan's credibility - a condition that Turcotte says Berg violated. "She did exactly the opposite of what I made her promise verbally to me," he said.
Indeed, in a Facebook message obtained by this reporter (from someone other than Henzi), Berg said, "Chris Turcotte is in my film. As a witness to Michael Egan and many others in the hot tub with men over 40 numerous times - while they were 13, 14, 15 years old."
But Turcotte told this reporter - and says he told Berg on camera - that the only adult he ever saw in the hot tub with Egan or any other minor was the Encino estate's owner, Marc Collins-Rector. Turcotte and others who were there flatly dispute the film's narrative that the estate was a venue for sex parties featuring underage boys and adult investors in Collins-Rectors' company, Digital Entertainment Network or DEN.
While Turcotte confirmed the film's claim that Collins-Rector had a "no swimsuits" rule for underage boys after dark, he said that the only adults present on those occasions were three residents of the estate: Collins-Rector, his approximately 22 year-old companion Chad Shackley, and the approximately 18 year-old Brock Pierce. Turcotte said he never saw Shackley or Pierce engage in sexual contact with minors, but confirmed that Collins-Rector did, including with Egan. Turcotte added that he never saw forcible conduct by Collins-Rector. He confirms the film's claim that guns were present in the house, and adds the disquieting detail that handguns were secreted for self-protection in every bedroom closet, including his own.
The film suggests - and Turcotte disputes - that sexual misconduct at the Encino estate was so open and notorious that everyone in DEN's orbit must have known of it, but the film's publicist, Henry Eshelman - who was also DEN's publicist in the late 90's - did not respond when asked whether he had suspected any wrongdoing at the time.
Collins-Rector later pleaded guilty to federal teen sex crimes, served time in prison, then managed to gain permission to travel abroad, where he now lives.
Like Henzi, Turcotte too signed a depiction release in connection with his appearance in An Open Secret. He says he resisted doing so, but that one of Berg's employees, producer Peter Clune, implied that the production would withhold Turcotte's expense allowance and return air ticket from Los Angeles back home to the East coast unless Turcotte signed. Clune and Berg did not respond to a request for comment.
Another detail that seems malleable in Berg's and Egan's hands is the age of the minors involved. Although Berg's Facebook message says "Michael Egan and many others ... were 13, 14, 15 years old," in a recent KCRW interview, the ages had dropped to disturbingly pre-pubescent levels: she claimed that "11, 12, 13 year old boys" were sexually abused at the Encino mansion. That startling age range is lower than anything purported in the movie or Egan's multiple lawsuits - but Berg has apparently gone lower still: in a subsequently-deleted Salon article (referenced here and here), she asserts that her film "is about the fact that grownup men were at those parties with young boys, some as young as 10 or 11." I've viewed the film several times and recall no such thing.
Egan himself claims in the movie to have been 14 when he first visited the estate and a text title indicates this as well, but the 1982 date of birth he gave in a court filing means he was actually almost 16 at the time. That age is roughly the same as that of Chad Shackley's younger brother Scott, a school friend of Egan's.
Later in the KCRW interview, Berg seems to paint actors union SAG-AFTRA as indifferent to child abuse by saying of an apparently-admitted abuser, "he's been still working at the Screen Actors Guild," when in fact the person in question was a talent manager who had served on a SAG committee, not a SAG or SAG-AFTRA employee.
Also in the mix is an advocacy group, BizParentz Foundation, one of whose founder/directors, Ann Henry, appears in the film and has been active in the movie's marketing effort, along with the organization's other founder/director, Paula Dorn.
Henzi says that Dorn told him Egan [12 words deleted], and he adds that Egan said that [19 words deleted] relating to the movie. Dorn and Egan did not respond to a request for [five words deleted] and other information, and in a response to a request for production of documents in the Ancier countersuit, Egan said he had nothing related to his allegations of abuse.
Egan clearly arouses passionate feelings in his defenders. In an October text message Dorn told Henzi, "[16 words deleted]." Meanwhile, law partners John Manly and Vince Finaldi of Orange County child sex abuse firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi - which ghostwrote for Egan until ordered by a federal judge to stop - reacted to questions from this reporter by sending scatological and denigrating responses. "You are probably green with envy. It probably burns you to death that our firm just resolved [a large case] for 139MM," wrote Finaldi, while Manly joked, "You meet Bill Cosby yet? One word of warning - don't drink with him." Their associates, Skye Daley and Alex Cunny, joined in the bathroom humor as well. None of the four responded to a request to explain their missives.
One person who parted company with the film is the film's domestic distributor, Vesuvio Entertainment. The company's CEO, Greg Sims, said in a statement, "There were many complex moving parts to this film, most of which predated my involvement, and for several reasons, I made a decision to not expand Vesuvio's distribution of this film beyond the initial US theatrical co-distribution deal that I had put in place with Rocky Mountain Pictures."
It's all too much for Henzi, who said, "I'm frustrated that they're still using my image to promote their movie and wish they would stop." He added, "I came into this because I wanted to do the right thing, but I met the wrong people again who took advantage of me."
Read the entire lawyer letter here:
From: "Shephard, Charles" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: November 3, 2015 at 7:18:25 PM PST
To: [Evan Henzi] <email@example.com>
Cc: "Gabe Hoffman (firstname.lastname@example.org)" <email@example.com>, "[Matthew Valentinas]" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, "Moss, Aaron" <email@example.com>
Subject: Breach of Confidentiality
Dear Mr. Henzi,
This office represents Gabe Hoffman and Esponda Productions. We understand that you have had recent communications with Jonathan Handel concerning the production of the film An Open Secret ("the Picture"). We understand that you have provided information to Mr. Handel concerning the Picture which you learned based on your participation in the production of the Picture.
Putting aside the issue of whether the information you told Mr. Handel is even factually correct, our clients are appalled by the fact that you would have violated the confidentiality provision in your agreement concerning the Picture. That provision, which appears in bold type in your agreement, states as follows:
I understand that during the course of participation with the Project or while interacting with Producer I may learn information about the Project which is confidential in nature and/or of great value to Producer ("Confidential Information"), including, without limitation, the fact that Producer is producing the Project or that I am involved with the Project and the content of any transcripts provided to me or footage I review. I agree not to disclose (whether directly or indirectly) to third parties, publish (including on blogs, Twitter or other internet based postings) or use any Confidential Information without Producer's express written approval.
We understand that in direct contravention of that agreement you have spoken repeatedly with Mr. Handel about things you purportedly learned about the production and provided him with documents (including emails) to which you only had access by virtue of your involvement in the production.
Our clients are not going sit idly by if you do not take immediate steps to rectify the flagrant breach of your confidentiality agreement. Even if the things you told Mr. Handel were true (and, as we understand it, much of them are not), you are in breach of contract. To the extent your statements were false, they are defamatory.
If you want to avoid our clients pursing legal claims against you, we hereby demand that you advise Mr. Handel that the information you provided him violated the confidentiality obligations that you had and that you insist that he not use any of the material or information you provided. If you not do so, please be assured that appropriate legal action will be taken against you. In that action, we will explore in great detail what you told Mr. Handel, who induced you to speak to him, and what you were promised to betray confidences and participate in a flagrant and obvious campaign to smear and disparage the Picture. In that action, we will seek substantial monetary damages since your conduct will harm the commercial value of the Picture. And, to the extent your comments to Mr. Handel were false and defamatory, we will seek punitive damages. Please do not underestimate our clients' resolve in respect of this matter.
Obviously some, including Mr. Handel, do not like the message delivered by the Picture. We will leave it to others to debate whether you are being used as a pawn by him and his friends. But what you have done has very real legal consequences that will not be ignored unless you undo your wrongful conduct.
Needless to say, this is not a full statement of our clients' position and they are reserving all rights and remedies.
Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP