A New York court on Thursday (2 March) upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by billionaire art collector and former Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) board chairman Leon Black that claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy to ruin his reputation and push him out of the private equity firm he founded before stepping down in 2021 over his ties to disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein.
In October 2021, Black filed a civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations) suit in New York claiming that Guzel Ganieva, a Russian model with whom Black says he had a consensual affair with, conspired with others to make false claims that Black sexually assaulted Ganieva.
Black accused Josh Harris, with whom Black founded Apollo Global Management, the company’s public relations head and Wigdor, the law firm representing Ganieva, of being in on a scheme to force Black to resign from Apollo. In his complaint, Black said Harris wanted to take revenge after he was not chosen to succeed Black as the private equity firm’s chief executive (Harris’s representatives denied the claim to the Wall Street Journal last year).
US District Judge Paul Engelmayer first dismissed Black’s suit last June, and called Black’s argument that he was the victim of racketeering “glaringly deficient”. Black filed an appeal, but the dismissal was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday with prejudice, which means Black will not be able to pursue the same claim again.
“We believe Black’s claims against our law firm were baseless and filed in retaliation because we represent Guzel Ganieva in her first filed lawsuit against Black,” Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor, said in a statement Thursday.
“This procedural ruling doesn’t change the indisputable facts that Ms. Ganieva extorted Mr. Black, broke her agreement with him about their consensual affair after pocketing $9.5m under that agreement, and then defamed Mr. Black by making demonstrably false allegations,” Susan Estrich, a lawyer for Black, said a statement. “We are confident that a review of the evidence in Mr. Black’s New York State Court suit, including the signed agreement and Ms. Ganieva’s own words, will expose her despicable claims as lies.”
Ganieva sued Black in June 2021, accusing him of sexual assault and defamation after he told news outlets in April of that year that she had extorted him after a consensual affair. Black made the comments in response to Ganieva saying online that Black was a “predator” and had raped her. The complaint claims Black “sexually harassed and abused” Genieva “for years” and referred to a specific alleged rape that Ganieva said took place in 2014.
Black stepped down as Apollo’s chief executive and chairman in March 2021 after an independent investigation found he paid more than $150m to Epstein between 2012 and 2017, after Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a teenage girl in Florida. While the inquiry found no evidence that Black took part in Epstein’s abuse, Black did not stand for re-election as board chairman of MoMA in New York after more than 150 artists signed onto an open letter demanding that Black be removed. (He is still a trustee of the museum.)
A second woman, Cheri Pierson, sued Black for rape in November 2022 and is represented by the same New York law firm, Wigdor. Pierson claimed in her suit that she was introduced to Black by Epstein, and that Black sexually assaulted her during a massage at Epstein’s New York mansion. Weeks after the alleged attack, Pierson said Black insisted on meeting her at a bar in Manhattan to hand over $5,000 in cash. Black has denied all the accusations of sexual assault.
Black has donated millions to MoMA, and built a notable art collection of his own. He was reportedly the buyer who spent nearly $120m on one of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895) pastels at Sotheby’s New York in 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal. The sale set a record price at the time for an artwork sold at auction.