CBS, LAPD captain led cover-up of sexual assault report against Moonves, AG says

Les Moonves
Leslie Moonves, former chairman and chief executive of CBS Corp., has agreed to pay $2.5 million to resolve a lingering inquiry after his corporate departure. (Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
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The New York attorney general's office released a sweeping report Wednesday that detailed an elaborate cover-up at the highest levels of CBS in late 2017 and 2018 to try to contain allegations of sexual harassment by former chief Leslie Moonves.

The report comes five years after a Los Angeles Police Department captain tipped off CBS executives, telling them a woman had come to the department's Hollywood station to report that Moonves had allegedly assaulted her in the 1980s.

"Somebody walked in the station about a couple hours ago and made allegations against your boss regarding a sexual assault," the police captain said in a Nov. 10, 2017, voicemail message left for a CBS executive, according to the report. "It’s confidential, as you know, but call me."

Over the next few months, the LAPD captain — whose role was not previously revealed — secretly provided Moonves and CBS executives with status updates on the LAPD’s investigation as well as personal details about the alleged accuser, the attorney general's office said. The captain slipped CBS a copy of the accuser's report, and top CBS executives then "began investigating the victim's personal circumstances and that of her family," the report said.

The police captain was friendly with CBS executives because he had been part of Moonves' security detail for the Grammy Awards for several years, according to the document.

Both sides sought to downplay the gravity of the woman's complaint, which came as the #MeToo movement was reaching a fever pitch. CBS executives were assured by the captain that LAPD "implemented controls to prevent news of the police report from leaking to the press," the document said.

"Hopefully we can kill media from PD. Then figure [sic] what [Complainant #1] wants,” Moonves wrote the captain and a CBS assistant in one text message obtained by the attorney general.

More than eight months went by before the public became aware of the allegations against Moonves.

"CBS and its senior leadership knew about multiple allegations of sexual assault made against Mr. Moonves and intentionally concealed those allegations from regulators, shareholders, and the public for months," according to a statement from New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James' office.

James announced that CBS and Moonves would pay $30.5 million, with much of the money going to CBS shareholders.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told The Times that his department only recently became aware of the allegations involving a ranking officer. The department later identified the officer as Cmdr. Cory Palka, who was captain of the Hollywood station in 2017 and 2018 and has since retired.

"What is most appalling is the alleged breach of trust of a victim of sexual assault, who is among the most vulnerable, by a member of the LAPD," Moore said. "This erodes the public trust and is not reflective of our values as an organization."

Capt. Kelly Muniz, an LAPD spokeswoman, said the department was "fully cooperating with the New York and California attorney general offices" and had also initiated an internal investigation.

The New York attorney general's report contained other findings, including how CBS' former chief communications officer Gil Schwartz, who has since died, sold more than 160,000 shares of CBS in June 2018 as the company tried to contain the explosive allegations. Schwartz sold the stock with CBS' approval, netting more than $8.8 million, knowing that damaging information could come out, and it did a few weeks later.

The attorney general's report also said Moonves allegedly misled investors about the scope of the sexual harassment uncovered at CBS — information that was damaging to CBS' stock.

Moonves will be barred from serving as an executive or corporate officer at a public company that does business in New York for five years, unless he obtains written approval from James' office.

Moonves, through a spokesman, declined to comment. Moonves has denied the allegations of sexual harassment.

Paramount Global separately announced that it and Moonves had agreed to pay the New York attorney general's office $9.75 million to resolve lingering shareholder claims over its handling of past allegations of sexual harassment. Moonves will contribute $2.5 million of that amount.

The company also said its insurance provider would resolve a separate $14.75-million class-action lawsuit brought by shareholders.

“CBS and Leslie Moonves’ attempts to silence victims, lie to the public and mislead investors can only be described as reprehensible,” James said. “As a publicly traded company, CBS failed its most basic duty to be honest and transparent with the public and investors. After trying to bury the truth to protect their fortunes, today CBS and Leslie Moonves are paying millions of dollars for their wrongdoing."

The Los Angeles Times in 2018 reported on the allegations of the accuser, Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, as a key piece in CBS’ high-profile investigation into the alleged misconduct of Moonves.

Golden-Gottlieb, who has since died, was a TV show development executive in the mid-1980s when she worked with Moonves at Lorimar Productions in Culver City. She told The Times that in a parking lot outside a restaurant, Moonves forcibly grabbed her head and slammed it into his crotch, then ejaculated into her mouth.

Moonves denied the allegations, and Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to bring charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

The attorney general's report detailed CBS' campaign to conceal the issue — all while publicly asserting that the company had no tolerance for sexual harassment.

A week after Golden-Gottlieb lodged her complaint, CBS executives were grappling with reports about inappropriate behavior by morning show host Charlie Rose. Moonves approved the decision to fire Rose, telling reporters that he felt that Rose needed to go.

Moonves on Nov. 25, 2017, requested an in-person meeting with the police captain. He and an underling, Ian Metrose, met with the captain at a restaurant and vineyard in Westlake Village to plan strategy. The police officer volunteered to come wearing a suit, rather than his uniform, according to the report. Metrose could not be reached for comment.

"During the meeting Moonves said that he wanted the LAPD investigation closed and discussed contacting other public officials," the prosecutors wrote.

Four days later, at Variety magazine's Innovate Summit, Moonves called #MeToo "a watershed moment," according to the report. It quoted Moonves as saying: "It's important that a company's culture will not allow for this."

The next day, according to the report, Metrose passed along a message to Moonves from the LAPD captain, who alerted them that another police officer would be wrapping up the report on Golden-Gottlieb's complaint the following week: "[H]owever, it's a definite REJECT - no witnesses and/or corroborative Evidence."

As The Times previously reported, members of CBS' board became aware of the allegations by Golden-Gottlieb by early 2018. An outside law firm was brought in to review information about allegations and the police inquiry but concluded that “no further investigation was warranted,” sources told The Times in 2018.

Behind the scenes, then-CBS Vice Chair Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder, had learned from reporters about sexual harassment allegations involving Moonves, the report said. She told another board member about reporters' pursuit of the Moonves story.

Redstone began agitating for a board investigation — and sweeping changes at the company.

In July 2018, the New Yorker magazine published the first of several articles by investigative reporter Ronan Farrow, detailing the allegations of six women who alleged Moonves assaulted or harassed them. Farrow's report prompted swift action. CBS' board hired two prominent law firms to investigate Moonves and the company's culture. The board then fired Moonves on Sept. 9, 2018.

That day, the LAPD captain emailed Metrose saying: "I'm so sorry to hear this news, Ian. Sickens me. We worked so hard to try to avoid this day."

The captain sent a note to Moonves two days later: "I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. I will always stand with, by and pledge my allegiance to you. You have embodied leadership, class and the highest of character through all of this."

With Wednesday's revelations, CBS is trying to close a troubling chapter that destroyed Moonves' career and triggered the company's eventual merger with Viacom.

"We are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle to resolve this matter concerning events from 2018 with the New York attorney general’s office, without any admission of liability or wrongdoing," a Paramount spokesman said in a statement.

The New York attorney general's inquiry was one of several open investigations into how CBS handled the 2018 sexual harassment scandal.

A group of shareholders also sued, alleging that the scandal was destroying the value of their holdings. New York agencies, including the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York County district attorney, quickly opened inquiries.

In 2018, shareholders Gene Samit and John Lantz, among others, filed class-action lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. A judge later consolidated the lawsuits into one, with the lead plaintiff being the Construction Laborers Pension Trust for Southern California.

Investors alleged multiple federal securities law violations, including that executives made "materially false and misleading statements" and that the company failed to disclose key information to investors.

"With the exception of one statement made by Mr. Moonves at an industry event in November 2017, in which he allegedly was acting as the agent of CBS, all claims as to all other allegedly false and misleading statements were dismissed," Paramount said in its filing.

The company eventually agreed to settle with the plaintiffs "for $14.75 million, which will be paid by the company’s insurers," according to the filing. The settlement is pending final approval.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.