MoMA trustee Leon Black accused of rape

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Leon Black, a trustee and former board chair of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), is being accused of rape. The lawsuit, which was filed in New York Supreme Court on 28 November and describes the assault in graphic detail, asserts that Black raped the plaintiff Cheri Pierson in the “massage suite” of the late financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s Upper East Side townhouse. The meeting between Black and Pierson during which this incident occurred was “pre-arranged” by Epstein, whom the suit describes as a “close friend and confidant” to Black.

This is the second time in as many years that Black—who co-founded the private equity firm Apollo Global Management—has been named in a lawsuit related to sexual abuse, as former Russian model Guzel Ganieva sued the financier in June 2021 for both defamation and sexual assault. Both Pierson and Ganieva are represented in these cases by the New York law firm Wigdor LLP.

The latest suit details that Pierson was paid $300 by Epstein in exchange for a massage on approximately five separate occasions, and that she was introduced by Black, whom Epstein referred to as a wealthy businessman who “helps people,” expecting a similar arrangement. The suit claims that Black forcibly escalated the situation into one of sexual assault. It also claims that he insisted on meeting Pierson weeks after the incident at a Manhattan bar, at which point he handed her an envelope with $5,000 in cash.

According to Reuters, Susan Estrich, a lawyer for Black, called Pierson’s lawsuit “categorically false and part of a scheme to extort money from Mr. Black by threatening to destroy his reputation…. We intend to defeat these baseless claims.”

In 2021, Black abruptly resigned from his role at Apollo Global Management following a review of his ties to Epstein, details of which included that Black had paid Epstein more than $150m over a number of years. Following this revelation, more than 150 artists signed an open letter calling for Black’s removal from the board of trustees, and the activist group MoMA Divest released a statement saying, “Recent confirmations of MoMA Board of Trustees Chair Leon Black’s deep financial and personal connections to Jeffrey Epstein underline the problems that MoMA and other major museum boards face and have failed to reckon with in any meaningful way.” The statement adds that “nothing short of a major reconstitution of the board, a change of directors, a public reckoning and a reimagining of the institutional and curatorial mission of the museum is acceptable.”

MoMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.

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