Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard has been arrested in Winnipeg and is facing sex-trafficking and racketeering charges in the United States over allegations that he spent decades using his enterprises to victimize dozens of women and underage girls in several countries.
The charges cite “a decades-long pattern of criminal conduct involving at least dozens of victims in the United States, the Bahamas, and Canada, among other locations,” according to a statement released jointly Tuesday by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Mr. Nygard, 79, was arrested Monday and faces possible extradition to the U.S. His lawyer, Jay Prober, said in an interview Tuesday that Mr. Nygard “vehemently” denies the allegations and “expects to be vindicated in court.”
The former chief executive officer of Nygard Group founded the business after buying a Winnipeg clothing company in 1966. He renamed the company and built a recognizable brand of department-store fashions, as well as opening a network of retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.
After a class-action lawsuit brought forth new allegations against Mr. Nygard earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York City Police Department raided his company’s offices in late February. That same week, Mr. Nygard stepped down as CEO.
The criminal charges related to the extradition request were filed in the Southern District of New York. The allegations against Mr. Nygard include racketeering conspiracies, transporting people for the purposes of prostitution and several counts of sex trafficking – including one charge involving an underaged girl.
The charges say the Nygard Group was tantamount to a criminal operation to “recruit, entice, transport, harbor, and maintain adult and minor-aged female victims for Nygard’s sexual gratification and, on occasion, the gratification of Nygard’s personal friends.”
The charges say the conspiracy went on for decades – from 1995 to 2020 – and that there was no distinction between Nygard Group resources and Mr. Nygard’s alleged sexual racketeering schemes.
The charges also assert that women were “forcibly sexually assaulted, drugged and/or coerced into sexual contact with Nygard.” It is alleged that he and his companies used “the ruse of modeling and other fashion industry jobs or career advancement in order to lure victims.”
The charges allege Mr. Nygard placed his victims under surveillance, preventing them from leaving his properties.
Rape was alleged to have been used as a tool of control. “Nygard sometimes forcibly assaulted ‘girlfriends’ who did not comply with [his] sexual demands – or caused others to do so at his direction or with his approval,” the charges say.
U.S. prosecutors say they will be seeking forfeiture orders against his businesses and properties.
The alleged racketeering schemes involved what were known as “pamper parties,” trips on private planes and other free services that Mr. Nygard allegedly made available to recruit women he would call “girlfriends.” The free services included dental work, immigration paperwork, plastic surgery and payments for abortions and child support, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Mr. Nygard allegedly used company funds and employees to suppress negative publicity about rape allegations made against him. He is also accused of threatening women who came forward with arrest or lawsuits, and of paying people for false affidavits intended to discredit accusers.
Nygard employees “engaged in obstructive conduct aimed at preventing witnesses from reporting Nygard’s sexual crimes,” the charges add.
He is specifically accused of targeting poor and underage females, some of whom had a history of abuse, according to the charges.
U.S. prosecutors will seek to prove in court that Mr. Nygard also drugged women’s drinks without their knowledge, and that he used company funds to pay for sex or in some cases “to secure a victim’s silence.”
In an affidavit filed in Manitoba court in support of the extradition process, RCMP Sergeant Stefane Nicolas said U.S. detectives have spoken to victims and witnesses with firsthand knowledge of Mr. Nygard targeting girls as young as 14 years old. One underaged teenaged girl says she was made to participate in group sex against her will.
U.S. authorities also believe that crimes occurred in Canada, according to the RCMP affidavit. It says Mr. Nygard encouraged women to travel to Canada and “victimized” them at properties at Winnipeg, Toronto and Falcon Lake, Man.
The RCMP affidavit says that authorities have reason to believe that Mr. Nygard was considering fleeing to Malta or Bermuda earlier this year, and that an RCMP surveillance team had recently been watching him at a house in Winnipeg.
“Nygard presents a serious flight risk,” Sgt. Nicolas said.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
The class-action lawsuit alleges Mr. Nygard sexually assaulted dozens of women. The lawsuit currently has 84 members.
“We are relieved that some measure of accountability is hopefully forthcoming, but we would be remiss if we did not state that this is something that should have been done decades ago,” wrote Greg Gutzler, a lawyer working with the complainants, in a statement Tuesday. “We also hope that his accomplices and co-conspirators are brought to justice for their web of lies and abuse.”
Lisa Haba, another lawyer working on the lawsuit, said in an interview that her clients are relieved he is in custody.
“The amount of harm that he did to them, and the pain they’ve been living with for years – many of them felt like they’ve been living in a prison of their own minds,” Ms. Haba said. “Knowing that he is finally facing justice, potentially, has been very, very uplifting and has given them a lot of hope.”
The lawsuit was paused this summer by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, but the reasons for the stay were not made public at the time.
During a brief initial appearance in Winnipeg court on Tuesday, Mr. Prober asked a judge to impose a publication ban in the extradition proceedings, to protect his client’s fair-trial rights and to prevent the case from becoming “a media circus.”
However, Justice Sheldon Lanchbery denied the bid, noting that the extradition proceedings will be heard by a judge who is “well trained to exclude any information which may be heard by them in other circumstances extraneous to court proceedings.”
Mr. Nygard remains in custody in Winnipeg. Mr. Prober said he is hoping to get his client bail as early as next week, to limit Mr. Nygard’s exposure to possible COVID-19 infection while in jail.
The next hearing in the extradition proceedings is scheduled for Jan. 13.
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