The ex-CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch is facing allegations that he and his partner sexually exploited men at lavish parties around the world, many of whom were recruited under the impression they would gain a modeling career with the brand.
The claims stem from a two-year investigation by the BBC, which spoke to 12 men who had attended or organized these events for the former retailer head, Mike Jeffries, and his partner, Matthew Smith, between 2009 and 2015.
Eight of the young men who attended these events say a highly organized network recruited them using a middleman, who they described as having a missing nose covered by a snakeskin patch.
Identified by the BBC as James Jacobson, this middleman lured some participants with the prospect of becoming an A&F model, while others said they were recruited knowing sex would be involved, just not exactly in the way it really was.
Most of the men say Jacobson sexually "auditioned" them before introducing them to Jeffries and Smith, with one hopeful model claiming Jacobson, "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." He was paid $500 for the act.
This model, David Bradberry, later accepted an invitation to an event at Jeffries' former Hamptons home, but after speaking of his career aspirations, Jeffries allegedly held poppers under Bradberry's nose — a drug that can give an instant high with disorientation — and had sex with him.
Other men say they would arrive at these events to find multiple other male recruits, all coerced into sexually engaging with Jeffries and Smith. The pair would have sex with about four men or "direct" the recruits to have sex with each other, the BBC reports. Afterward, staff at the events would hand them envelopes filled with thousands of dollars.
One struggling model says Jeffries was the "kingpin" of the "well-oiled machine," saying the former CEO "took advantage of people in a very vulnerable point in their life."
Though he was made to feel "extremely uncomfortable" at these events, this model said his debt and hope to support his family pushed him to attend on multiple occasions, with Jacobson continuously promising modeling work would eventually be offered.
These testimonies from the male subjects were extensively fact-checked, the BBC says, including verifying documents like emails and travel itineraries and interviewing other sources, including household staff.
Two former U.S. prosecutors who reviewed the BBC's documents and the men's testimonies have now called for an investigation into whether these men were sex trafficked due to them being forced, coerced or manipulated into traveling to another state or country to have sex for money. That potential investigation could lead to trafficking charges for Jeffries and Smith, who have both not responded to any requests for comments on the charges against them.
Jacobson denied any allegations of "coercive, deceptive or forceful behavior," saying these men went into the sex events "with their eyes wide open" in a statement through his lawyer. The alleged middleman also says he doesn't recall making any promises of modeling opportunities.
In a statement, A&F said it was "appalled and disgusted" by the alleged behavior of their former leader and that it has launched an independent investigation into issues raised by the BBC's investigation. It said the company's current leadership team wasn't aware of the allegations against Jeffries.
Jeffries headed the A&F empire during its heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s, transforming it from failing outfitter to multibillion-dollar teen retailer using provocative advertising to ramp up sales, including semi-nude models in posters and in person outside of the stores.
Throughout his time there, he became one of the country's highest-paid CEOs, but his attitude and approach to the business also got him and the company in deep water.
In 2003, employees sued for discrimination, saying they were kept out of front-facing positions and or were discouraged to even apply. The company denied any wrongdoing and settled for $40 million.
Concern also surrounded Jeffries' overspending and his elevation of Smith's role in the business.
In 2014, Jeffries left the declining company with a $25 million retirement package, of which he is still receiving annual payments, according to the BBC.
But despite a 2022 documentary, "White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch," detailing further negative allegations, the brand has since somewhat recovered, with some outlets saying it's the middle of a "major revival."
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