Former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Accused of Sexual Exploitation

Photo: Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, who resigned in 2014 and is well-known for fostering cruel, racist, and sexist policies during his tenure, is now facing multiple allegations of sexual exploitation. According to a damning BBC News investigation, Jeffries and his British partner, Matthew Smith, allegedly facilitated the recruitment of young men, many of them aspiring models, for international events where they are said to have coerced them into sex acts. The alleged sex events took place between 2009 and 2015 at Jeffries’s New York residences and at luxury hotels in London, Paris, Marrakesh, and Venice. “This experience, I think it broke me,” former model and activist Barrett Pall told the BBC. “I can sit here and tell you that I was taken advantage of.”

Over the course of a two-year investigation, the BBC spoke to 12 men who claimed to have either attended or organized sex events for Jeffries and Smith. Eight of the accusers say they were lured in under the pretense of modeling opportunities at the brand and were recruited by a “middleman” or “casting agent” identified by the outlet as James Jacobson. Some men say they were initially misled about the nature of the events, while others said they knew they would be sexual in nature but were unaware of what exactly they would be expected to do. Model David Bradberry told the BBC that the sexual coercion began at the recruitment level, recalling how an agent introduced Jacobson as the gatekeeper to the “owners” of A&F, back in 2010 when Bradberry was 23. Bradberry said he was later pressured into a sex act during a meeting with Jacobson. “Jim 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,” said Bradberry, who said he felt “paralyzed” and recalled Jacobson giving him $500 for his time. (Allegedly, staff routinely paid these men with envelopes of cash.) “It was like he was selling fame. And the price was compliance.” Bradberry said he accepted an invitation to an event at Jeffries’s former Hamptons home, where he recalled speaking to Jeffries and Smith about his hopes of becoming an A&F model before Jeffries later held poppers under his nose and had sex with him. Citing the secluded location of the house and the presence of staff members, Bradberry said he did not feel comfortable saying no to the mogul, whom he regarded as a “powerful man” who could “make his career.”

Other sources described a similar pattern of exploitation, alleging that Jacobson forwarded photos of them to Jeffries and Smith and sexually “auditioned” them as a prerequisite for an introduction. Recruiters for the sex events told the BBC they received anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for each new referral; while attendees claimed a personal groomer was hired to intimately shave their bodies before events took place. All of the accusers said they were required to sign NDAs, but noted that they were barred from keeping copies and weren’t given sufficient time to read them. “It felt like they were trying to scare us with some kind of b.s. legal document, that’s what it felt like,” Bradberry said. “It felt like intimidation.”

While Smith allegedly organized the cash payments for these events, Jeffries stands accused of funding them, which the BBC reports happened routinely over weekends at the mogul’s Hamptons home. Pall, who said he was recruited by an older model at the age of 22, recalled attending a Hamptons event where Jeffries and Smith allegedly watched another recruit perform oral sex on him before encouraging Pall to come to their bed and kiss Jeffries. Pall further accused Jeffries of groping him and witnessed two other recruits having sex with the couple. An anonymous accuser told the BBC he attended a 2011 Marrakesh event as a dancer in his early 20s, accusing Jacobson of demanding oral sex from him at his audition and Jeffries of trying to kiss him without his consent at the event. The man said he later fell asleep in a hotel backroom and woke up to find a condom inside of him, leading him to believe his Champagne had been spiked. “I believe there is a very good possibility I was drugged and raped,” he said. “I’ll probably never, never know for sure the answer of what happened.”

Jeffries and Smith have not commented on the accusations; Abercrombie & Fitch said in a statement that it is “appalled and disgusted” by its former CEO’s alleged behavior. For his part, Jacobson denied promising the accusers modeling opportunities, maintaining in a statement to the BBC through his lawyer that anyone who attended the events “went in with their eyes wide open” and that any sexual encounters he had were “fully consensual, not coercive.” Per the outlet, two former U.S. prosecutors have called for an investigation to determine whether sex-trafficking charges can be brought against Smith and Jeffries. An anonymous accuser called the latter the “kingpin” of the alleged scheme, describing how he “took advantage of people in a very vulnerable point in their life, especially when they’re around big cities, coming from small America … If it wasn’t for him” he continued, “none of this would have existed.”

Ex Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Accused of Sexual Exploitation