The legal brawl between billionaire Leon Black and a law firm that’s represented three women who’ve accused him of sexual assault is growing vicious—with Black suing the accusers’ counsel just days after they claimed the mogul sicced private eyes on one plaintiff and her family.
Last month, a woman using the pseudonym Jane Doe filed a shocking lawsuit claiming the 72-year-old investor violently raped her in 2002 at sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s New York townhouse. Doe alleges she was 16 at the time of the alleged attack and that she has autism and a rare form of Down syndrome.
In a legal memorandum filed last week, Doe’s counsel said Black recently hired private investigators “to harass and intimidate” her and sent them to her parents’ home in Virginia with cheesecake “as a ploy to be invited in for coffee.”
“Based on Black’s prior use of private investigators to bully and shame women who have accused him of sexual assault, substantial concern exists about what he intends to do with the fact that he has confidentially obtained Ms. Doe’s true name in this action,” wrote Jeanne M. Christensen, Doe’s lawyer and a partner at Wigdor LLP.
The Manhattan firm has also represented two other women with assault accusations against Black, who was a longtime friend of Epstein and paid him $158 million for estate and tax planning advice from 2012 to 2017. Their financial relationship, which led to Black stepping down from Apollo Global Management, is now under investigation by a Senate committee.
Cheri Pierson sued Black in 2022, alleging he raped her at Epstein’s home two decades ago, and Black’s former girlfriend Guzel Ganieva filed a 2021 suit claiming he abused her for years. A judge dismissed Ganieva’s case in May, ruling that a nondisclosure agreement she signed with the billionaire years before had invalidated her claims, but Pierson’s case is pending.
On Monday, Black’s legal team—which already has a motion for sanctions against Wigdor in the Pierson case—sued the firm and Ganieva for malicious prosecution.
Wigdor “has a unique business model: it threatens to sue defendants with scandalous allegations that can be avoided only at the cost of a large settlement, of which Wigdor takes a substantial cut,” the complaint alleges. “When Plaintiff Leon Black had the temerity to reject this scheme, Wigdor sought to teach him a lesson by three separate headline-grabbing lawsuits which it knew, or should have known, were false.”
The court battle began to rev up just after the public learned that Black paid the U.S. Virgin Islands $62.5 million to be released from any claims stemming from the territory’s probe into Epstein’s sex ring. The New York Times, which exposed the payout last month, reported that it “shows the extent to which Mr. Black, once a titan of the private equity industry, has gone to limit scrutiny of his decades-long social and business ties to Mr. Epstein.”
Four days after the Times report, Wigdor filed Doe’s lawsuit in Manhattan federal court.
In her complaint, Doe claimed that she met someone named “Elizabeth” at a cheerleading camp for kids and that the woman sexually groomed her before introducing her to Epstein’s accomplice, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. (Maxwell was convicted of child sex trafficking in 2021 and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.)
“The family members also allegedly disclosed in their recorded conversations that Doe lived at home in high school and was not ‘trafficked’ to New York.”
Doe claims Epstein and Maxwell abused her in New York and Florida and would also “hand [her] off” to other men including Black.
In a statement, Christensen told The Daily Beast that the “frivolous claims” in Black’s new lawsuit were why the state of New York passed anti-SLAPP legislation.
“This is nothing but one more feeble attempt to divert attention from the fact that he paid $62.5 million to the USVI and $158 million to Jeffrey Epstein,” Christensen said. “Sadly, there are always lawyers willing to file such nonsense when someone like Leon Black is paying the hourly rates. We look forward to holding Black accountable in the currently pending cases against him.”
According to Doe’s memorandum, a large white Chevrolet Suburban with Virginia tags parked inches from her driveway on July 27, two days after she filed her lawsuit. She claims the mysterious vehicle drove off after someone called the police. (Black’s attorneys claim he had nothing to do with the white SUV parked outside.)
Last week, Doe’s legal filing adds, two men waited for her parents as they returned to their Virginia home with Doe’s minor child. “These men said that they were ‘investigating’ a complaint filed in court and needed to speak to her parents,” Christensen wrote in the document. These strangers also had baby photos of Doe’s child, she added.
“Undoubtedly, showing baby photos in their possession to Ms. Doe’s parents is a blatant attempt to send a strong and disgusting message to Ms. Doe that should she proceed to assert her claims against Black, that she was placing the safety of her immediate family, including her minor child, in jeopardy,” wrote Christensen.
After the investigators arrived with their dessert, they recorded their interview with Doe’s parents, spoke to her kid, and requested childhood photos of Doe. “In addition, they asked pressing and intimate questions about Ms. Doe’s medical history,” Christensen alleged.
Doe’s latest pleading says two men appeared unannounced at her aunt’s home the next morning and “implied that they were on official business in connection with a lawsuit.”
“Of course, the only ‘official’ business they had was private work for Leon Black,” the document alleges. “In addition to Ms. Doe’s aunt, the men attempted to question her cousin about her personal life. After the two men arrived, Ms. Doe’s aunt, who was afraid, contacted Ms. Doe.”
Doe’s aunt told them to leave, and they allegedly showed up outside a childhood friend’s residence hours later. The men left a business card indicating they were connected to an investigation firm in Florida called SIC, Inc., the filing states.
“The conduct Black believes he is entitled to engage in, despite his clear intent to frighten and intimidate a sexual assault victim, is of heightened concern here based on Black’s recent, substantially similar conduct, in litigation involving another sexual assault victim who has accused Black of raping her in Epstein’s townhouse,” Christensen added.
According to Christensen, Black’s sleuths “spent weeks drudging up information about Pierson that any reasonable person would be humiliated and horrified to learn was publicly filed on a court docket” in order to engage in “pure unadulterated victim shaming.”
Christensen argued that Black will attempt to intimidate Doe by attaching her personal information to a “baseless” motion for sanctions against Wigdor LLP.
But Black’s attorney, Susan Estrich, said that Doe concocted a false story and never left home at age 16 as she claims. Estrich added that the billionaire’s counsel has “no intention” of asking the court to publicly disclose Doe’s identity.
“The truth is also that Jane Doe never left home at age 16; has a history of making up stories and diagnoses; and there is no Svengali ‘Elizabeth’; and that Jane Doe never met Mr. Black and there was no assault,” Estrich said in a statement. “Ms. Christensen knows that the Wigdor firm is about to be exposed for using Jane Doe to peddle lies about Mr. Black in its campaign to destroy him. Mr. Black intends to hold Wigdor fully accountable for its unlawful behavior.”
Aside from Black’s new lawsuit against Wigdor, his attorneys filed a reply in Doe’s case on Monday, arguing the firm was “publicly smearing” their client.
“In his defense, Mr. Black is entitled to take legitimate steps to investigate claims that he knows to be untrue,” attorney Danya Perry wrote in the document. “There is nothing remotely inappropriate about using professional, ethical, licensed investigators to ascertain the true facts; indeed, although Wigdor itself does not appear to take steps to investigate its matters, legitimate plaintiffs’ attorneys routinely use investigators as well.
“And as is clear from the voluntarily recorded interviews, the 83-year-old investigator in this case could not have been less intimidating or more professional.”
“In her complaint, Doe claimed that she met someone named ‘Elizabeth’ at a cheerleading camp for kids and that the woman sexually groomed her.”
In the lawsuit against Wigdor, Black’s team says Ganieva had a consensual affair with the private-equity tycoon from 2008 to 2014. Throughout their liaison, Black paid for her apartment, fancy vacations, acting lessons, tuition, and more. Ganieva, Black claims, tried to extort him in 2015 before they ultimately signed a nondisclosure agreement that led to him paying her a total of $9.5 million, including $100,000 a month for about six years.
Black’s lawyers argue that Wigdor would file and later amend Ganieva’s complaint with accusations about Black and Epstein “despite clear evidence” that the claims were false and barred by the NDA.
They leveled serious claims about Pierson, too, calling her “a serial litigator who has been involved in over 35 previous lawsuits, has an extensive criminal record, and has been publicly accused of harassment, stalking, and threatening to kill others.”
As for Doe, they claim they’ve “already uncovered evidence, including from key figures in Doe’s past, that proves Doe’s claims are made up from whole cloth, and that Wigdor knew them to be fraudulent before filing.”
According to Black’s suit, Doe’s relatives and friends told investigators that she “has a history of making up alternate realities and has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.”
The family members also allegedly disclosed in their recorded conversations that Doe lived at home in high school and was not “trafficked” to New York. They also allegedly told Black’s investigators that while she claimed on social media that Epstein abused her, she removed those posts after relatives challenged her.
In a pleading in the Doe case, Black’s legal eagles highlighted other supposed holes in her story and said she was never diagnosed with autism or mosaic Down syndrome as a child and “did not display symptoms or behaviors of either condition.”
Instead, Black argues, Doe “became aware of and studied those behaviors and began intentionally displaying them in her twenties in order to present herself as a person with autism.”
“For example, she once noted that people with autism don’t look other people in the eye, and thereafter began to avoid looking people in the eye—a behavior she had never before displayed,” Black’s memorandum states.
“Likewise, the first time her family heard Plaintiff claim to have mosaic Down syndrome was when she was in her thirties, after a relative posted on social media about her child with Down syndrome, and received positive support and attention. According to her family, Plaintiff has a history of seeking attention through any means available to her.”