Daryl Katz attorney: Lawsuit 'entirely without merit'
A Brazilian actress-model is accusing an NHL owner and financier behind Silver Pictures of offering her “millions” of dollars and a movie role in exchange for sex.
The model, Greice Santo, who had a recurring role in “Jane the Virgin,” alleges that she was twice lured to the hotel room of Daryl Katz, the Canadian billionaire who owns the Edmonton Oilers, with promises that he could help her acting career. Santo says that although she spurned Katz’s advances, she later received two wire transfers totaling $35,000. In an interview, she said that such behavior is typical in Hollywood.
“This is so common, but most girls and women — they are afraid of coming out,” Santo told Variety. “I feel like me coming out will give courage and inspire so many girls who go through the same thing I go through.”
The allegations were first disclosed in a defamation lawsuit filed Monday in New York by Santo’s husband, R.J. Cipriani, against a crisis consulting firm hired to represent Katz. Cipriani, a professional gambler and FBI informant, alleges that Glenn Bunting, president of G.F. Bunting & Co., tarnished his reputation in order kill a story about Katz in the New York Post.
Katz’s attorneys have accused Cipriani and Santo of attempting to extort $3 million from Katz as the price for keeping quiet. Katz does not deny meeting with Santo, but has alleged that some elements of her story have been misconstrued.
In addition to airing sordid details from the entertainment world, the lawsuit also spotlights the role of crisis consulting firms, which are often hired to clean up damaging stories for wealthy clients. Cipriani portrays himself as a longtime reliable source for the New York Post. In the suit, he accuses Bunting of damaging his relationship with a New York Post editor by accusing Cipriani of extortion, which Cipriani denies. The Post ultimately did not run a story on Katz.
“A media consultant can’t go around accusing people of crimes just to kill a story,” Cipriani’s attorney, Peter Gleason, told Variety, adding that publications have become increasingly gunshy in the wake of the Hulk Hogan lawsuit, which bankrupted Gawker. “Everybody is running scared,” he said.
The story begins in November 2015, when Santo was flown to Hawaii to participate in a photo shoot for Viva Glam magazine. While there, she was introduced to Canadian executive Michael Gelmon, who suggested she should meet his cousin, Daryl Katz. According to a handwritten statement filed with the lawsuit, said she was invited to Katz’s hotel suite at the Four Seasons with the promise that he could help her career.
“Katz said he could put me in a big role that would change my life and then switched the conversation and said he rather give me money,” Santo wrote.
According to Santo, Katz said, “I’m talking about millions… This would help your family and help you so you won’t struggle.”
Santo said she asked what she would have to do in exchange, and was told, “I’m looking for companionship and sex.”
Santo said she refused and walked out. The next day, she sent a text to the CEO of Viva Glam recounting the incident: “Offered me money… I didn’t get offended… You have to play the game.” She also said it appeared Katz had been drinking.
Afterward, she said Gelmon was apologetic and continued to text her after she returned to Los Angeles. In one message, Gelmon sought to arrange another meeting with Katz. She tried to deflect him by sending a photo of a Mexican model.
“There is no shortage of super modles (sic) who want to be with my cousin,” Gelmon wrote. “But he is very picky and she does not meet his standards. He prefers u.”
She also got text messages from Katz, who introduced himself as her “Fairy Godfather.” The subject turned to money, and she suggested he make a charitable donation.
“To the extent we see each other I would prefer to give you money,” he wrote. “Whatever you decide to do with it is your choice.”
Santo agreed to another meeting with Katz at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. “As long as you are willing to help me forge those relationships which could dramatically help my career that would be great,” she wrote to Katz. “Thank you so much.” Katz responded: “With pleasure.”
Katz offered to send her $20,000, which Gelmon wired to her account shortly before the meeting. In her statement, Santo described the payment as a “good faith gesture.”
By text, Santo asked Gelmon if he could arrange a meeting with Joel Silver, chairman of Silver Pictures, “or one of the casting directors from his company to try to get in to any film or tv project he’s doing.” Gelmon said there would not be enough time, but that he would “start the process.”
Silver Pictures has recently produced the “Sherlock Holmes” franchise, “The Nice Guys,” and the forthcoming George Clooney-directed “Suburbicon,” starring Matt Damon.
Santo said in the statement that she was assured by Gelmon that Katz would not proposition her again. However, after 30 minutes of talk about helping her career, Santo said that Katz again proposed paying her for sex. Santo said she again refused, saying “I am not a prostitute,” and left.
However, she continued to maintain the relationship. In a text message soon after the meeting, she wrote, “Hey. Wish we could’ve had dinner together. And spend more time. You are a very sweet and kind man. Thanks so much for your kindness.”
She continued to text with him sporadically for the next couple of months. According to Santo, Gelmon wired her an additional $15,000 and asked for another meeting at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills in March 2016. She said she did not go to the meeting.
Santo also said that Gelmon called and threatened her when word got back to him that she had been talking about her encounters with Katz. The call was recorded, and Gelmon can be heard telling her that Katz’s people could “make sure you don’t work in Hollywood ever again.”
Cipriani — Santo’s husband — then got involved, and attorneys were called in on both sides to try to work out a settlement. Cipriani was a key informant in a federal investigation into drug trafficking and illegal gambling. According to a profile in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Cipriani pleaded guilty to insurance fraud in 2006 and has been blacklisted from casinos. The Union-Tribune reported that he went to the authorities after his life was threatened over a gambling debt and helped build a case that led to charges against 22 people, including a former USC football player.
According to a letter prepared by Katz’s attorney, Cipriani threatened to go public with false allegations against Katz unless he was paid $3 million. In the settlement talks, Gelmon offered to facilitate meetings to help Santo’s acting career. Santo said she was offered a “three-picture deal” to keep quiet, but rejected the offer. The negotiations then broke down.
Cipriani and Santo then went to the Hawaii Police Department with allegations that Katz was using the magazine to lure young women and solicit them for prostitution. The handwritten statement was forwarded to the Hawaii investigators, and Cipriani also alerted the New York Post to the story. The Hawaii case was closed without charges being filed.
According to Cipriani’s lawsuit, Katz hired G.F. Bunting & Co. to deal with the fallout. Cipriani alleges that Bunting told the business editor at the Post that Cipriani was attempting to extort Katz.
In the interview, Santo rejected those claims.
“What else are they gonna say?” she asked. “This is not about money. This is about me standing up for other women.”
The lawsuit points to a YouTube video in which Bunting talks about crisis communications.
“Our phone generally rings when the house is fully engulfed in flames,” Bunting says on the video. “Oftentimes, there will be an individual, very high profile, a senior executive who engages in some kind of misconduct… something that that individual should not have been engaged in… That’s where they turn to us to help them work through those things.”
The complaint also points to a lawsuit from former Baylor football coach Art Briles. Briles was fired last year in the wake of a sexual assault scandal, and then sued the university. In the complaint, Briles accused Bunting of working on the university’s behalf to blame Briles for the scandal and deflect its own responsibility. “Bunting is well known for its ruthless media manipulation activities,” the lawsuit states.
Bunting declined to respond to Cipriani’s lawsuit. Katz’s attorney Dennis Roach provided the following statement:
“Robert J. Cipriani is a convicted felon who has been menacing Mr. Katz and his family for more than a year. The allegations in the complaint filed against Mr. Bunting and his company, and the assertions made in that document about Mr. Katz, are false, malicious and entirely without merit. Moreover, it is plain as day that this so-called complaint was filed solely as bait for the media as part of an ongoing effort by Cipriani to harass, embarrass and possibly extort Mr. Katz, exactly as Cipriani has done with other prominent individuals. Variety has done its readers — and itself — a disservice by allowing its pages to be used in this manner.”
In response, Cipriani said, “The complaint speaks for itself. Conveniently Mr. Roach is attempting to divert from the real issue, that GF Bunting and his company have a history of enabling those who are complicit in aggressions towards women. If you look at GF Bunting’s history with Occidental College, Florida State and more recently with Baylor University where Bunting was brought on by Oracle’s CEO Mark Hurd, Bunting leaves his clients in a much worse position than he found them in.”