A prominent Wall Street lawyer called the Manhattan district attorney on behalf of his billionaire client Leon Black, prompting New York’s top prosecutor to open an investigation into whether the former Apollo chief executive was being extorted by a Russian fashion model who has accused him of rape.
Brad Karp, who chairs the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind & Garrison law firm, phoned then-Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance in April, according to several people with knowledge of the call. Black was seeking an investigation into what he has characterized as an extortion scheme perpetrated by the 38-year-old model, Guzel Ganieva.
Vance instructed his prosecutors to look into the matter, one of the people said. In a meeting soon after, Paul, Weiss lawyers told prosecutors they were in possession of evidence that would show Ganieva demanding millions of dollars in exchange for keeping silent about her affair with Black. The evidence was said to include text messages, signed contracts and secret tape recordings.
Black had stepped down as chief executive of Apollo a month earlier after disclosing that he had paid $ 158mn in professional advisory fees to the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Karp’s previously unreported communication with Vance sheds further light on a scandal that broke into the open in June, when Ganieva filed a civil lawsuit in New York claiming Black had sexually abused her during their relationship and later tarnished her reputation by publicly accusing her of extortion.
Black has denied the allegations and said his relationship with Ganieva was consensual. In a statement to the Financial Times, a spokesperson for the private equity billionaire said: “Last April, Mr Black asked counsel to refer the matter to the Manhattan DA’s office for criminal investigation. Since then, Mr Black has co-operated fully with the DA’s investigation of [Ganieva]. ”
Prosecutors in Vance’s office heard Black’s lawyers out and asked to see the documents but did not hear back for several months, the people said.
Black’s team eventually provided some documents in October. It is unclear how far Vance’s office pursued the matter, and no criminal charges have been filed. Vance said that “the matters you refer to are, I understand, open investigations”, but declined to comment further.
Vance was succeeded as Manhattan DA by Alvin Bragg last month. His office declined to comment. Karp also declined to comment.
While the DA’s office sometimes receives approaches from white collar lawyers, the effort to trigger an investigation by New York’s top prosecutor represented an unusual assignment for Paul, Weiss – a “white shoe” firm that handles acquisitions and litigation for some of the biggest US corporations including Apollo.
The firm has mostly operated behind-the-scenes on behalf of Black. For example, it has not signed any court documents related to the case.
Karp, who became chair of Paul Weiss in 2008, is active in Democratic politics and a prominent representative of the New York business community.
He played a role in recruiting Susan Estrich, a feminist legal scholar, to Black’s legal team in October, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement.
Since then, Black has adopted a hard-nosed legal strategy, suing Ganieva in federal court, claiming she is trying to destroy his reputation by filing sham lawsuits with funding and assistance from prominent New York business figures.
Black’s former top lieutenant at Apollo, Josh Harris, who remains on the company’s board, is allegedly among those figures. Black filed a lawsuit against Harris in January, painting his onetime partner as a bitter rival who had plotted with Ganieva to “destroy” him after losing out in the race to succeed him as Apollo chief executive.
Harris denies the claim, and says he has never had any contact with Ganieva or any of her representatives.
Ganieva’s lawyers have also forcefully rejected Black’s theory. “Knowing that he could no longer control her into silence, Black resorted to the age-old playbook used by wealthy and powerful men,” they wrote in a complaint filed several weeks after Karp’s phone call to Vance. “[Black] made a pre-emptive claim of extortion. ”