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Billionaire financier Leon Black beats rape lawsuit after prominent #MeToo firm withdraws from accuser’s case

Leon Black speaks at MoMA

Leon Black speaks onstage at a MoMA tribute to Martin Scorsese on Nov. 19, 2018, in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Museum of Modern Art)

Billionaire financier Leon Black won the dismissal of a civil rape suit after a law firm behind prominent #MeToo cases, which was representing an accuser, withdrew from the case.

The former CEO of Apollo Global Management, a private equity fund, has been on the defensive since his resignation amid scrutiny of his financial relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. Black said he left that post to spend more time with his family.

Since stepping down from that job — and another position as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art — Black has been trying to fend off lawsuits by two women: Russian model Guzel Ganieva and Cheri Pierson, a New Jersey mother who claimed Black raped her inside Epstein’s New York townhouse. Black has not been charged with any crime.

Labeling Black a “predator,” Ganieva claimed that he sexually harassed and abused her for years, then forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement a little more than half a decade ago. Black views the dismissal of her claims as a vindication.

“From the very beginning, I’ve made clear that Ms. Ganieva’s allegations against me were false and there was no basis for this suit,” Black said in a statement. “Given how Ms. Ganieva was able to manipulate the legal system and the media, I am gratified that the truth has come out and justice has been finally done.”

Black called her allegations “exceptionally painful to my family, my business partners and friends, and me.”

“Now that this is behind me, I will continue my focus on my family and my life as an investor and philanthropist,” he continued.

In 2011, Ganieva said she enrolled in an undergraduate program to allow her to seek a career outside modeling, and she needed money. She acknowledged having signed two $480,000 loan agreements with Black — one in 2013 and another in 2014, both with interest accruing.

Ganieva claimed that was Black’s method of financial control, to cover up his alleged sexual abuse.

Neither Black nor Ganieva disputes the underlying transactions and contracts — or the existence of a sexual relationship. Black says that it was “consensual” and calls himself a victim of extortion.

“The truth is that I have been extorted by Ms. Ganieva for many years and I made substantial monetary payments to her, based on her threats to go public concerning our relationship, in an attempt to spare my family from public embarrassment,” Black said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

At a hearing in February, Black’s lawyer Michael Carlinsky, from the firm Quinn Emanuel, called the agreements lucrative for Ganieva.

Under the terms of an October 2015 release, Ganieva received $2 million at signing, forgiveness of the roughly $1 million loan and monthly payments of $100,000 for more than five years, leading to a total of roughly $9.5 million, Carlinsky said.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice David Cohen pressed Ganieva’s then-attorney Jeanne M. Christensen on whether her client would return that money in order to press her claims. Christensen declined to commit to that at the time, claiming that Ganieva signed it under duress.

But Justice Cohen found that Ganieva was a sophisticated party in the contracts.

“While English may not have been plaintiff’s first language, she offers nothing to demonstrate that she was unable to read the NDA, and it is undisputed that by the time she signed it, plaintiff had graduated from Columbia University with a math degree, had applied to attend business school, and had interviewed for jobs at high-level international financial firms,” the judge wrote in a 12-page ruling.

Black’s attorney Susan Estrich of Estrich Goldin celebrated what she called the “resounding rejection of Ms. Ganieva’s baseless lawsuit.”

“Justice Cohen’s decision is a repudiation of all of Ms. Ganieva’s false claims, finding that they lacked legal or factual support,” she said in a statement. “This case should never have been brought.”

Black’s legal team has argued that the terms of the NDA defeated Ganieva’s claims. The judge agreed.

“Finally, the NDA clearly and unambiguously covers all claims arising out of the parties’ relationship, past or future,” the ruling states.

Earlier this year, Ganieva fired her counsel at Widgor, a prominent law firm behind major #MeToo cases. Its attorney Jeanne Christensen didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

The second lawsuit against Black, filed by Pierson, remains active.

Black’s legal team has attacked Pierson’s credibility, claiming in a legal filing detailing her previous brushes with the criminal and civil justice system. From the late 1990s through 2006, Pierson was charged with felony drug possession, misdemeanor battery, and other offenses, according to the filing, which doesn’t cite any convictions.

She’s been in “court at least 35 times for disputes with friends, neighbors, and employers; for suits with shopkeepers and motorists, stores where she slipped and fell, hairdressers who allegedly wronged her, and a boyfriend,” Black’s attorney Michael Carlinsky said.

Black has a pending motion seeking to dismiss that case.

Read the ruling here.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."