‘I honest to God believe I was drugged’: magician David Copperfield’s alleged victims speak out – The Guardian US

98 minutes, 39 seconds Read
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For two 15-year-old girls in the early 1990s, meeting David Copperfield, the world famous magician, seemed like the thrill of a lifetime.

Carla* says she remembers the way Copperfield gave her his phone number after a 1991 show in Georgia. About two years later in San Francisco, Lily* says, she felt giddy when the master illusionist picked her to join him on stage for a magic trick.

Both girls were in high school at the time and had attended Copperfield’s shows with their parents.

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The women, now in their 40s, come from different backgrounds and have never spoken to each other, but they do have one thing in common. They claim the events that followed these encounters changed their lives.

Carla says she feels she was “groomed” by Copperfield for more than two years. She describes how he sent her notes and gifts, including a teddy bear and Valentine’s day balloon when she was 16. A note attached to one – a photo of which was seen by the Guardian – reads: “In 2 years I will be back”.

After Carla turned 18, Copperfield became the first man she had sex with, she says. He was more than twice her age. Copperfield’s lawyers denied he groomed Carla and said they had a “consensual relationship”.

Lily claims Copperfield groped her breasts on stage while performing a trick in front of her father and sister who watched aghast, they have confirmed, from the front row. She says she had nightmares for years about Copperfield using his magic on her.

The two are among 16 women who have alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior by Copperfield, a Guardian US investigation has found.

The allegations span four decades – from the late 1980s to 2014. More than half of these women say they were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged incidents. Some, like Carla and Lily, say they were 15.

There is no evidence the magician knew Carla and Lily’s exact ages when they say they met him.

Asked about all the claims, lawyers for David Copperfield denied all the allegations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior. Copperfield’s lawyers said he has “never, ever acted inappropriately with anyone, let alone anyone underage”.


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The investigation

The Guardian US is examining these allegations as part of a series of stories that that has drawn on interviews with more than 100 people and analysis of court and police records obtained through freedom of information act requests.

The allegations against Copperfield include claims that he drugged three women before he had sexual relations with them, which they felt they were unable to consent to.

Three other women allege he groped them during live performances. In another case, a woman claims Copperfield took her hand and placed it on his buttock, forcing her to squeeze it. She was 16 at the time and her family was in the audience, she says.

Others claim that Copperfield behaved in a way that now strikes them as inappropriate. These women – whose ages ranged from 15 to 19 at the time they say they met him – say Copperfield pursued contact with them despite their ages and the imbalance in power between them .

Some of the women had previously gone public with their allegations. Most are going public for the first time, through interviews with the Guardian.

In written responses to detailed questions from the Guardian about all these claims, his lawyers denied wrongdoing by Copperfield of any kind, describing the allegations against him as “false and entirely without foundation”. They also said there had been “numerous false claims” made against him in the past, but that none had been proven. They noted that he has never been charged with a crime.

The lawyers said inappropriate behavior against women “is the opposite of everything he stands for and works hard for.” They said Copperfield was a major advocate of women’s rights even before the rise of the #MeToo movement, the global reckoning that encouraged women to speak out about claims of sexual violence and harassment in the workplace and everyday life.

Soon after the Guardian approached Copperfield with questions about the allegations, two women who had been interviewed extensively by Guardian reporters said they wanted their allegations of sexual misconduct by Copperfield removed from this story.

They had originally given permission for their real names and photos to be used, and the Guardian had corroborated their stories by interviewing their friends and family members.

The Guardian made a decision not to publish details of their allegations, but to be transparent with readers about their requests.

One case involved a woman who was 15 years old at the time of the alleged incident, according to her friends and family. The other woman was in her 20s.

They have never cast doubt on the content of their allegations. Through his lawyers, Copperfield denied both allegations.

Circumstances surrounding their requests raise questions about whether both women have been in discussions about possible financial settlements with Copperfield or his representatives. Gloria Allred, a California lawyer known for representing female victims of powerful men, confirmed she is representing one of the two women. The woman told reporters that Allred had approached her earlier this year about representing her and discussed the possibility of a settlement with her.

Allred has been criticized in recent years for negotiating settlements on behalf of victims of sexual misconduct that include non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that have kept their allegations out of public view. She has defended the practice, saying it helped women “have the money to pay their therapy bills and … also have their privacy and go on”.

Despite widespread criticism of the use of NDAs in sexual misconduct cases since the beginning of the #MeToo movement, experts say they are still common. Zelda Perkins, a campaigner against NDAs who broke hers in order to speak out against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, says settlements often put women “in an impossible situation” – forcing them to choose between speaking out or remaining silent in exchange for compensation.

Allred declined to comment on whether she had negotiated a settlement between Copperfield and her client. The other woman who asked that her allegations be removed declined to say whether she had been offered a settlement. She said she was “not at liberty to talk about anything”.

Asked whether Copperfield has ever offered or paid settlements to anyone who has accused him of sexual misconduct, his lawyers declined to provide an answer, saying the magician “has no intention of indulging what he considers to be a fishing expedition by your journalists.”

The magic man

The story of David Copperfield’s success and longevity in show business has been remarkable.

An only child, he was born David Kotkin in Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1956. He has said he pursued a career as an entertainer starting from a young age to overcome his shyness. At 10 he was a ventriloquist, at 12 a conjurer and at 18 he was cast as the lead in a musical, The Magic Man.

He is the youngest performer ever to be accepted into the Society of American Magicians, and he is considered the most commercially successful illusionist of all time, with a net worth estimated close to $1bn.

In 2018, he was ranked the seventh wealthiest American celebrity, after Kylie Jenner and one ahead of Sean “Diddy” Combs, according to Forbes. And he is still performing about 500 shows a year at his residency at the MGM Grand hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

In his heyday, his “magic tricks” were spectacular events. Best known for making the Statue of Liberty “disappear”, Copperfield has seemingly floated over the Grand Canyon, walked through the Great Wall of China and gone over the Niagara Falls in a flaming raft.

His regular tours and multi Emmy-winning TV specials have made him a household name around the world.

It is a career, however, that has not been without moments of controversy, as his lawyers have noted.

In 2007, a woman named Lacey Carroll, who met Copperfield when she was in the audience of a show, reported Copperfield to Seattle police, alleging he raped and sexually assaulted her on his private island. Her report triggered a two-year FBI investigation that was ultimately dropped in 2009 with little explanation.

And six years ago, a woman called Brittney Lewis alleged in The Wrap, an entertainment news website, that Copperfield drugged and sexually assaulted her after meeting her at the 1988 Look of the Year modeling contest in Japan, where Copperfield was a judge.

Copperfield denied both Carroll and Lewis’s allegations.

The Guardian began looking into Copperfield’s alleged conduct in 2019, and stepped up its investigation a year ago as new leads came to light.

The Guardian knows the names of all of the women making allegations, and some have agreed to be named in the Guardian’s articles.

Those who wanted to be quoted on the condition of anonymity are marked* with an asterisk.

Though all the alleged misconduct dates back to before the advent of #MeToo, it was the movement that encouraged many of the women to talk about events they have described as traumatizing.

Some of the women interviewed by the Guardian say they now look back on the alleged incidents with a deeper sense of clarity.

Behind the curtain

More than half of the women who have alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior say they met Copperfield at his shows – after being picked to join him on stage or while getting his autograph afterward.

These and other alleged incidents associated with his performances will be examined in this article.

Six former Copperfield employees from the early 1990s to mid-2000s claimed in interviews that he frequently asked his assistants to approach attractive young women from the audience and invite them to come up on stage or join him after the show.

These ex-employees said Copperfield regularly had the women join him in his limousine, hotel or penthouse afterwards, sometimes several times a week.

Valerie*, a former assistant, says one night while on tour in late 1999, Copperfield summoned her after he spotted a woman he liked in the audience.

“He’s standing behind me looking through the curtain and he grabbed me by the back of the neck and sort of twisted my head around until he was sure I was looking at the right girl and he’s like ‘that one’.” Valerie says she felt a knot in her stomach, so she was relieved when the woman took her boyfriend along to meet Copperfield after the show.

Copperfield told her, she says, that next time she should ensure the women were brought to him alone. Valerie, then in her late 20s, says she felt increasingly unnerved by Copperfield’s behavior around women and teenage girls during the 18 months she worked for him, so much so that she quit the following year, paying back her Christmas bonus for breaking her contract.

“There were always women coming and going,” Valerie says. “I never saw anybody come in that was unwilling to come but I felt the power dynamic just seemed very wrong. Like these were very young women.”

Copperfield lawyers said he was “unaware” of staff members quitting for the reasons Valerie cited, and that he “did not and does not” act as alleged.

Sophie*, a former assistant who worked for the magician in the 2000s, says that over time she became concerned about what appeared to her to be Copperfield’s sexual interest in young women he was meeting backstage after the shows. She began to intervene, she says, by asking for the ages of young female audience members who were picked to meet Copperfield, and telling girls who were under 18 to go back to their families.

Several other former Copperfield employees told the Guardian they never saw any indications that their boss engaged in sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior. Rock Monroe, Copperfield’s former security manager, who worked for the illusionist from 1989 to 1994, praised his former boss and told the Guardian that he did not witness any unusual behavior by Copperfield towards women.

“David never did anything inappropriate with anyone, anytime, male or female,” Linda Faye Smith, who worked as an executive assistant for Copperfield from 1990 to 1994, said in a written statement. “I never heard a single complaint.”

‘I will be back’

The Guardian has interviewed five women who say Copperfield spoke on the phone with them and their families when they were teenagers in the late 1980s or early 1990s, which Copperfield’s lawyers denied. The women now believe these communications were inappropriate.

Carla, one of the 15-year-olds he met from the audience of his shows, says Copperfield approached her and her mother as they walked to their car in the parking lot after attending a show in Savannah, Georgia, in 1991. Copperfield had been heading towards his tour bus when he spotted her, she recalls.

She had been brought on stage by Copperfield to join him for a trick earlier that evening. He asked her how old she was and what she was doing that night, she recalls. She believes she told him she was 16, in order to seem older than she was. Her birthday was in a few months.

She says he took her phone number, gave her a business card with “Magic Dave” written at the top and told her he would take her to dinner when she turned 18.

Along with gifts and notes she says he sent her – including the note promising he’d be back “in 2 years” – Carla says Copperfield phoned her family home repeatedly. He would sometimes call late at night, she recalls, so her mother would have to wake her up to speak with him. “I didn’t want him to not like me,” she says. “I was very inexperienced, it was … exciting and thrilling.”

Copperfield gave Carla and her family tickets to his shows on two occasions before she turned 18, which she attended with her mother and grandmother, she says. She showed the Guardian the ticket stubs and an entry in her calendar.

After one of these shows, when she was 17, she says, Copperfield invited her to join him in his limousine. Carla says Copperfield may have assumed she had turned 18 already. She says he kissed her and pushed her head towards his crotch, which she took to mean she should perform oral sex on him. “I was not forced but I remember feeling awkward as I’d never done that before.”

Carla says that after she turned 18, Copperfield – who is 19 years her senior – had penetrative sex with her. She says it was her first time. “I was a young schoolgirl infatuated with a man who was famous and I think he used that to benefit him,” she tells the Guardian. “Why would he continue to reach out to me through those years if he wasn’t planning on pouncing as soon as I turned 18?”

Copperfield’s lawyers denied that he “groomed” Carla or behaved in any way that was improper. The lawyers called the relationship “a wholly lawful four year consensual relationship 30 years ago.”

Carla also describes the relationship she had with Copperfield as “consensual” but says there “was a huge power and financial imbalance”.

She says she was at his “beck and call” when he was touring – taken to his hotel room by his assistants where she waited for him until he finished his performance. “He took advantage of his position,” she says now.

Carla says her views about Copperfield evolved in recent years. She praised the illusionist on her social media accounts as late as 2018, because she felt protective of him and was skeptical of the #MeToo movement.

“He was very kind, endearing almost, even [to] my grandmother,” she says. “Recently … I put the pieces together and realized he was grooming us all.” The Guardian asked to speak with Carla’s mother but she told Carla she was too upset to speak to reporters. In a message she told her daughter: “I’m still trying to come to terms regarding David.”


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On stage

It was in the early 1990s that a woman named Gillian*, who was in her 20s at the time, attended a Copperfield show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas with two friends, a woman and a man named John*. It was supposed to be a fun weekend away. They were seated in the front row when the illusionist picked Gillian to join him on stage for a trick.

Gillian remembers feeling thrilled by her encounter with the celebrity. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime event to be “picked from thousands” to get on stage.

Afterwards, as she and her female friend waited in line for an autograph, a male assistant approached the pair asking if they wanted to join Copperfield for a drink after his next performance. In retrospect, Gillian says she had only really wanted an autograph and deeply regrets that the night did not end there.

The two women stayed up late, got ready and then waited at the bar when a man took them in Copperfield’s private elevator, she recalls, which brought them directly to his suite. They might have had one drink but were not drunk when they got there, Gillian says.

Copperfield walked into the room, Gillian recalls, as James Taylor songs were playing. Each woman was given a small glass of sambuca. Three former assistants separately confirmed that they had to ensure a bottle of sambuca was kept in the magician’s living quarters.

After she had the drink, Gillian says, she began to feel “weird, physically weird”.

“From then everything was just fuzzy … I literally blacked out for a while, and I don’t do that.”

Gillian claims that what happened next was sexual abuse. In “patches”, between blacking out, she remembers being naked in Copperfield’s bed, and him having sex with her and also her friend. She felt she was not able to consent to sex and, she believes, her friend had not been able to consent either.

“I am 56 years old now,” Gillian says. “Never in my life have I had a time where I don’t consciously remember [a period of time] … I would never just say this to somebody if I didn’t truly, honest to God believe that I was drugged at that time.”

Gillian recalled Copperfield being cold and telling them to get their things and go.

“I don’t have any proof because it’s not like I went and announced what happened or went to a doctor or got checked,” Gillian says. “I didn’t want it to ever affect my life again.” She says she can no longer listen to James Taylor music.

Gillian’s account was corroborated by John and one other person.

John had not been in touch with Gillian at the time of the Guardian’s interview with him. He claims he remembers details about the incident and that he heard the women arrive back at the hotel room that morning from the adjacent room, saying they believed they had been drugged by Copperfield.

Through his lawyers, Copperfield denied Gillian’s allegations. The lawyers said “no such claims or complaints were ever made about him to Caesars Palace – where he then had a residency or elsewhere in relation to such alleged misconduct.” Lawyers also said that drugs are “not a part of his world”.

Copperfield’s lawyers accused the Guardian of seeking to publish a sensational “hit piece” using allegations that are vague, historic and “utterly unsupported by any proper evidence”.

Smith, Copperfield’s former executive assistant, said: “The thought of David with any kind of drug use or drugs for any purpose whatsoever is preposterous.” She packed and unpacked his personal items and never saw any “illicit substances”, Smith said.

In a statement provided to the Guardian by Copperfield’s lawyers, Linda Crane, a former senior vice-president at Caesar’s, said she never received any reports of misconduct by Copperfield. “The David I knew does not, in any way shape or form, fit with any of these allegations. I never knew of or witnessed David using drugs, giving drugs or alcohol to anyone.”

In plain sight?

Lily* says she was excited when Copperfield began “making eye contact” with her and her younger sister Mandy* during a show in San Francisco in about 1993. Mandy remembers giggling and wondering who he was going to call to the stage.

They were seated in the front row with their father. Like millions of others around the world, the family loved watching Copperfield’s specials on TV.

Lily was a high school freshman, 14 or 15 at the time, she says. To her surprise, Copperfield picked her.

When she reached the stage “he had me turn around, and he was behind me with his arms around me and both of us were holding a rope … out front,” Lily recalls.

“While I was holding the rope, his forearms were going up and down on my chest, pretty hard … while he was talking, and performing the trick,” Lily says.

“I kind of spaced out and froze,” Lily remembers. “I felt really gross and embarrassed.”

Her sister Mandy, who was about 13 years old at the time, struggles to talk about the alleged incident without crying. “My main thought was, what is he doing to my sister? Why is he touching her that way?” Mandy remembers her sister “looked trapped” as Copperfield was repeatedly “rubbing her up and down on her breasts” while “telling jokes … and guiding the audience to laugh along”.

The girls’ father, now in his 80s, says he still feels guilty for not stepping in to protect Lily. He wishes he had “gone up on the stage” and pulled Copperfield off his daughter. “But it didn’t hit me at first … I didn’t have the guts to go say something to him.”

Mandy says the alleged incident had “a huge impact” on her older sister. “To think of the power that he knew he had to be able to do that on stage in front of however many people, it’s hard to wrap my head around still to this day,” Mandy says.

Lily, now in her 40s, says she had nightmares for years about Copperfield using his magic on her.

Through his lawyers, Copperfield denied that the “rope trick” involves any “unlawful touching” as alleged. “This trick has been performed in front of tens of millions of people over many years with tens of thousands of audience members on stage, not to mention cameras and security at all angles, without any complaint ever being made,” his lawyers said.

Lily is one of four women interviewed by the Guardian who allege Copperfield groped them or or made them touch him in a sexual way during live performances on stage.

In 1996, about three years after Lily’s moment on stage, Copperfield picked Olivia*, a 17-year-old high school student who was at a show in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with her mother and younger brother. Copperfield was at the height of his fame, engaged to supermodel Claudia Schiffer, one of her idols.

Copperfield led Olivia on to the stage by her hand and chit-chatted with her in front of the audience, she says. He put his arm around her while still holding her hand, she says. Then, she alleges, he ran his fingers “between my legs from the back” and stroked upward. She says he “groped” the “area between the anus and the vagina” over her clothes. “I totally froze.”

Olivia likened it to a “sleight of hand” that the audience could have missed while being distracted by his performance. Olivia’s mother says she did not see the alleged incident happen. However, Olivia recalls hearing a woman in the front row say to another woman: “Did he touch her?”

Later, Olivia says, Copperfield whispered that she ought to come backstage after the show.

In 2018, Olivia, a British-Canadian model and actress, filed a complaint with police in London, who passed it on to Hamilton Police. “I wanted it to be on file in case there were any other victims out there,” she says.

Lawyers for Copperfield denied the allegation and said the idea that he would violate someone in this fashion “is patently absurd”.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the police report that describes the incident as an allegation of sexual assault. The details in the report match those Olivia told reporters. Police indicated in the reports that they searched for possible video recordings of the show but could not find any. No further action was taken by Hamilton Police. A spokesperson for the force said Copperfield was not interviewed and “the file was closed with the potential to be reopened at a later date.”

In December 2006 – a decade after Olivia’s moment on stage – 16-year-old Katie Ring was on holiday with her family in Las Vegas, attending a Copperfield show at the MGM Grand. Copperfield selected her from the audience and led her towards the stage, holding her hand, she says. As they were climbing the stairs, Ring says, he put his arm around her while holding her hand and whispered “grab my ass” in her ear.

Then, Ring alleges, Copperfield placed her hand on his buttock and pinched it together so that it made her “squeeze his butt cheek”.

Ring, a junior in high school at the time, says the move was intended to be seen by the audience and that Copperfield said in jest: “It’s David Copperfield, not David Cop-a-feel!”

“I’m just so embarrassed by this point,” Ring, now a 33-year-old self-defense instructor, said in an interview with the Guardian. “I didn’t understand how much of a line that was crossing at the time.”

Her parents did not see what Ring alleges happened, but say they were “appalled” when Ring told them soon after. A photograph snapped by her mother, Connie Ring, seen by the Guardian, shows Copperfield holding Ring’s hand on his lower back as they walked up the stairs together, capturing the moment seconds before the alleged incident.

On stage, Copperfield put a rose in Ring’s mouth, fog appeared and Let’s Get it On played through the speakers, Ring recalls. Copperfield performed a trick where he “impregnates” her using his magic. A sonogram of “their baby” then appears on a screen.

“It was very uncomfortable and odd,” her mother says now.

Copperfield’s lawyers denied Ring’s allegation. They said use of the term “Cop-a-feel” was “not predatory or malicious and has not been part of our client’s act for many years”.

A police report in Vegas

Fallon Thornton was in the audience of a Copperfield show at MGM seven years after Ring. In January 2014, Thornton was in Vegas celebrating her 28th birthday when she was picked to join Copperfield on stage, she says.

Copperfield led her to the stage holding her hand and as they walked up the steps “with his other hand, he groped my breast. Like, full on squeezed,” she alleges in an interview with the Guardian. “I was in shock and disbelief … like did he really just do that in front of people? Did someone see that?”

After the skit Copperfield told her she was “very attractive”, she says.

Days later, Thornton says, she reported her allegation to MGM Grand. In an email, seen by the Guardian, she urged the company to investigate promptly. “Mr Copperfield should not be allowed to get away with this type of behavior,” she wrote.

Initially MGM representatives were “receptive” and explained how to make her complaint to them, but after that “I didn’t hear much from them,” she says.

Thornton also filed a report with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which was obtained by the Guardian. The alleged offense is marked in her police report as “open and gross lewdness”.

Police records show they obtained a CD of the performance from MGM, but there is no description of the video in the police record. When Thornton asked a detective to see the video, she was told no, according to an email seen by the Guardian.

Lawyers for Copperfield said it was “untenable” that Copperfield would have groped a woman in front of a live audience. They also claimed that a law enforcement official confirmed at the time that the footage did not show Copperfield touching the chest area of any of the audience participants. The lawyers declined to name the law enforcement official and there was no record of this alleged communication in the records that police shared with the Guardian.

Despite requests, neither the Las Vegas police nor lawyers for Copperfield nor MGM gave the Guardian a copy of the video of the performance.

Las Vegas police said in a statement to the Guardian that Thornton’s case was closed in 2014 for “insufficient evidence”. “After a review of the case, statements, and surveillance,” the statement said, officers “determined that there was no merit to the allegation presented”. Police said they contacted Copperfield’s legal representatives, but did not provide more information.

Thornton, now 38, says she is still angry that her allegation was taken “so lightly” by the police and MGM. “I don’t think it was taken seriously.”

MGM, where Copperfield still regularly performs today, declined to comment on the alleged 2014 incident or any of the allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior against Copperfield.

The Guardian has reviewed footage of Copperfield’s shows that are available on the internet and some are uncomfortable to watch.

In a recording of a rope trick similar to the one Lily says she assisted, Copperfield puts the rope around a young woman’s legs and pulls it upwards, lifting her mini skirt so it is around her upper thighs. She tries to pull it back down and to push the rope away, as the audience laughs along. He then puts the scissors in the waistline of his pants pointing towards his crotch and asks her to take them out.

In other tricks, during the 1990s and 2000s, Copperfield can be seen holding hands with young women he selects from the audience, sometimes pressing himself against them. In some he makes sexual innuendos that could be perceived as demeaning to women.

Others who encountered Copperfield at his shows have told the Guardian that they too witnessed or experienced alleged behavior that now strikes them as inappropriate.

Among them is Nicole Ehinger, who was 17 when she attended a Copperfield show in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in December 1992.

After saying goodbye to her friend, she alleges, she was approached in the parking lot by a man working for Copperfield who asked if she would like to spend the evening with the magician.

Copperfield’s lawyers denied that Copperfield employees approached show attendees in this way.

“I just remember thinking that was exciting,” Ehinger says. She says Copperfield, who was then in his mid-30s, joined them soon after and asked if he could take her to a nightclub. Ehinger says she told him she was 17 and would not be able to get in because she was below the legal drinking age, but Copperfield told her not to worry.

At the busy club, Ehinger alleges, Copperfield and two of his male employees bought her at least one alcoholic drink. It was clear Copperfield was coming onto her, she claims, saying he touched her leg at least 10 times throughout the evening and would lean his body and rub his leg against hers. Copperfield’s lawyers denied the claim.

They added: “We note as a matter of law that the legal age of consent in Indiana is 16.”

Later, Ehinger says, he invited her back to his hotel, but she declined, which he respected. Ehinger does not describe herself as a victim but now believes she was being put in a vulnerable position given her age.

‘Other women out there

In response to questions about whether Copperfield or his representatives had ever promised to pay money to any individuals who made allegations against him, his lawyers said they had been “instructed” that Copperfield had made a “complaint to law enforcement over instances of what he considers to be false allegations made against him in an attempt to extort money.” They added that it was their understanding that Copperfield had been told to “not comment further on a live investigation”.

The lawyers declined to identify the law enforcement agency or any other information about the alleged complaint.

It is not the first time Copperfield had made such an allegation.

After the FBI began investigating the sexual assault allegations made by Lacey Carroll against Copperfield in 2007, he alleged in the press that she was trying to extort him.

A dancer, then named Jessica Moore, read Carroll’s allegations at the time and felt compelled to speak out about her own claims against Copperfield.

Moore – who later changed her name to Shedini when she became an escape artist – was worried that speaking out about Copperfield could hurt her stage career, a fellow performer tells the Guardian. Because she was a strong and principled person, he said, she decided it was the right thing to do.

In 2007, Shedini told a tabloid newspaper that she was “attacked” by Copperfield. The article is no longer publicly available but was found via WENN Entertainment News Wire Service, which once re-published it.

The former dancer alleged in the article that after she arrived at Copperfield’s suite for what she thought was a work-related meeting, he tried to force himself on her, pushed her up against a wall and held her there while he kissed her and put his tongue down her throat. She was in her early 20s at the time. Copperfield, through his lawyer, denied the allegation at the time.

The alleged incident took place in Copperfield’s hotel suite in Lake Tahoe in the early 90s, according to her friends.

Shedini died in 2017 at age 46. Shedini’s daughter, Xondria Brown, as well as 12 other friends and fellow performers, say that Shedini told them about the alleged incident over the years.

Brown says she vividly recalls her mother’s “body language change” when she told her the details of what happened when she said she went to see Copperfield. “He forced a kiss on her and she pushed him off and ran out the room.”

One of her friends, April Patterson, says Shedini told her about the alleged incident after becoming “extremely upset” upon seeing Copperfield’s photo on the cover of a magazine while they were at Walmart together. Another friend, Brandy Hollenbeck, says Shedini used to talk about Copperfield “often” and get upset when recounting how he had allegedly “violated her”.

Copperfield’s lawyers call Shedini’s allegation “ridiculous”. They claim the late dancer called Copperfield when she was ill “not long before she passed away” to “apologize about making the false claim”.

One woman, who says she had an on and off friendship with Shedini, claims that years before her death, Shedini had thought about phoning people who she may have negatively impacted, including Copperfield. This woman, who did not want to be named, says Shedini never spoke to her directly about the alleged incident with Copperfield.

Brown, her daughter, says she doesn’t believe her mother called Copperfield to apologize. She and her mother were very close, Brown says, and her mom would have told her if she had called the magician.

All of the 12 friends and fellow performers who recall Shedini telling them about the alleged incident say they never heard and do not believe that Shedini called Copperfield before her death. Even if she had for some reason, they say, she never retracted her allegation before she died.

Brown, 31, says the alleged incident made her mother “more protective” and “instilled the conviction in me to never go somewhere alone.”

Shedini decided to speak out in 2007, her daughter says, because she believed “other women were out there”.

  • The Guardian was assisted with online research by Jules Metge.
    Additional reporting by Will Craft

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