NEW YORK — Peter Nygard is stepping down from the company he forged for more than a half-century, amid mounting allegations the Winnipeg fashion mogul has run a decades-long sex-trafficking ring with the complicity of countless business associates.
On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and detectives from the New York Police Department raided Nygard's corporate headquarters in Times Square.
By the end of the day, Nygard announced — through a spokesman — he would step down from the privately-owned clothing firm with corporate offices in Winnipeg, New York, and Toronto.
Nygard, 78, has been under investigation for at least five months by a joint child-exploitation task force of the FBI and the NYPD, according to a report by the New York Times. The investigation is overseen by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.
Nygard, speaking through his lawyers, has repeatedly maintained his innocence.
A Free Press request to interview Nygard was declined Tuesday.
His lawyer, Jay Prober, told media he was unaware of the multi-millionaire’s current whereabouts.
“Recognizing the priority of the welfare of the thousands of Nygard employees, retail partners, loyal customers, vendors, suppliers, and business partners, Peter Nygard has made the decision to step down as chairman of the Nygard companies and will divest his ownership interest...
"Peter Nygard has decided that his legal battles with Louis Bacon will no longer be a distraction to the (Nygard) companies...
“The wonderful Nygard employees who rely upon the companies for their livelihoods must now be the priority. Peter Nygard thanks his employees for their years of dedicated service.”
— Ken Frydman, spokesman for Peter Nygard
However, Nygard was spotted exiting the international arrivals area of Winnipeg's Richardson International Airport early Tuesday morning. He and an entourage of three left the airport quickly, a witness told the Free Press.
The U.S. criminal probe went public as Nygard finds himself ensnared by mounting rape allegations.
Ten women — many of them under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offences — accused Nygard of drugging, assaulting, raping and sodomizing them in a class-action lawsuit filed Feb. 13 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Dozens more women have since approached the firm handling the class-action lawsuit, also claiming Nygard raped them. The allegations span four decades and three continents, dating to 1977.
More than 20 are Canadians, and there is at least one accuser from Winnipeg, said Greg Gutzler, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.
"It’s more than three dozen now, and I’ve had people reach out to me today with whom I have not spoken. We’re over three dozen, and it keeps going up. So far, the majority have been Canadians; more than 20 — Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg," Gutzler said Monday at his Manhattan office.
"We’re not finding clusters; we’re finding a relatively even pattern of different people coming forward over the time frame. We’ve had people from five countries now: the Bahamas, the United States, Canada, the U.K. and China."
While the Free Press was on scene Tuesday, law enforcement officials from the FBI could be seen leaving Nygard's New York headquarters. Some of the FBI agents covered their faces as they exited the building, walking quickly to nearby vehicles, before driving off.
They were followed by two people who identified themselves as lawyers, but refused to give their names, say who they represented, nor confirm they were affiliated with Nygard.
A few doors down in Times Square sits a Nygard retail shop, where a lone female employee was working. She said she was unaware of the rape allegations against the owner of the eponymous store until informed by a Free Press reporter.
Soon after, she closed the store for the day.
The FBI confirmed the raid in a written statement, but declined further comment. A request for comment from the NYPD was not returned prior to deadline Tuesday.
A request for comment from a communications firm affiliated with Nygard was not responded to prior to deadline.
Earlier Tuesday, Prober said the FBI and NYPD would find no evidence of wrongdoing in their search of Nygard’s Manhattan headquarters.
Meanwhile, Gutzler said he suspects the class-action lawsuit will be expanded to add new accusers in the next 30 to 45 days, stressing the law firm has conducted an independent investigation into each allegation.
New accusers continue to step forward at an astonishing pace, he said.
"We’ve seen a relatively consistent flow of people… The most important thing to me is when you’re hearing consistent stories from people who have never met, have never told anybody in the world what happened, and you see striking similarities in the patterns, practices and unique proclivities," Gutzler said.
He said the firm hired former law enforcement officers trained in sex-trafficking investigations to conduct the probe.
"We have confirming interviews. We have patterns. We have pictures. We have journal entries. We have a variety of different things across the gamut. You name it, we’ve got it… Passport entries, passport exits," Gutzler said.
Prior to launching the lawsuit, Gutzler said he worked on the case for two years. He won’t be paid for his work unless the alleged victims receive compensation.
Nygard has been involved in an ongoing feud with the American billionaire Louis Bacon for more than a decade. The two men are neighbours in the Bahamas, where Nygard owns a lavish estate, where sexual abuse is alleged to have taken place at "pamper parties."
Nygard, through his lawyers, has claimed the rape allegations are being orchestrated by Bacon. Attempts to reach one of Bacon's lawyers, Fred Smith, have been unsuccessful.
Gutzler pushed back against the idea, saying the Nygard-Bacon dispute — which has spawned dozens of lawsuits and allegations of murder plots — dates to 2009, while the rape allegations go back decades.
"When we see the allegations of rape date back to 1977, it entirely debunks any type of discussion of Louis Bacon," Gutzler said.
Nygard has announced his intention to petition the court to dismiss the class-action lawsuit.
The FBI raid on Nygard’s corporate headquarters came the morning after a verdict was reached in the Harvey Weinstein rape case.
Weinstein, a longtime power player in the Hollywood film industry, was found guilty in a New York court of two felony sex crimes. He was remanded into custody, pending sentencing.
Gutzler said the Nygard case is tied to the broader #MeToo movement, which helped lead to the criminal prosecution of Weinstein.
On Monday, the lawyer said he believes Nygard's alleged conduct was an open secret from Winnipeg to Toronto to Los Angeles to New York fashion circles to the Bahamas.
"I’m just astonished that we as a society — American, Canadian, Bahamian — we never stopped it. None of us stopped it. How can that be?" Gutzler said.
"You know what freaks me out? The fact that this has gone on for so long and he’s hurt so many people."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 at 11:52 AM CST: Comment from lawyer added.
12:00 PM: Typo fixed.
12:07 PM: Photo added.
6:47 PM: Writethru, photos added.
7:10 PM: Updates story
7:52 PM: Adds fact box.