The F.B.I. is “looking into” whether singer-songwriter Ryan Adams’ sexually explicit communications with an underage fan were criminal behavior, according to a law enforcement official cited by The New York Times. The fan, identified only as “Ava,” was between the ages of 14 and 16 when the interactions, which included nudity, took place. She was one of several women accusing the singer of sexually inappropriate behavior in an article the Times published Wednesday.
Through his lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, Adams denied that he “ever engaged in inappropriate online sexual communications with someone he knew was underage.” On Thursday, Brettler told the Times that he had not been contacted by law enforcement.
The Times said that in response to its article, F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s New York office have begun to open a criminal investigation, citing an official who declined to be identified. Agents from the Crimes Against Children Squad will seek to interview the woman and attempt to obtain the text messages and any other evidence. Reps for the F.B.I. did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Federal law bars the sexual exploitation of children under 18, defining a violator as anyone who “persuades, induces, entices or coerces any minor to engage in” a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct. Several legal experts said that decisions on whether to prosecute such cases could hinge on whether the adult reasonably believed the minor was of legal age, taking into account context from their conversations. Adams and the girl, who is referenced only as “Ava,” engaged in “more than 3,000” sexually oriented texts, direct Twitter messages and Skype sessions when she was 15 and 16, according to the article. Adams asked her age repeatedly; sometimes she lied, sometimes she didn’t answer, but she never provided him with proof.
Variety spoke with two lawyers on Wednesday about Adams’ legal situation with regard to Ava. “It depends on whether he believed she was underage,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School. “A prosecutor could argue is that he thought she was underage and that’s why he kept asking, but a defense attorney would say no, he asked because he didn’t want to be involved” with an underage girl.
Defense attorney Anthony Salerno adds, “He could be on the hook for [illegal] contact with a minor if prosecutors thought it was ‘intentional blindness’ regarding her age, or a ruse to create the appearance that he didn’t know when he really did — like he was trying too hard to make himself look good,” he said.
Laws regarding sexually oriented digital communication with a minor vary from state to state. Ava lived in Ohio at the time, where it is a felony to “solicit, exchange or possess any material that shows a person under 18 engaging in sexual activity,” according to the article; in New York, Adams’ location during many of the exchanges, the age is 17.