Ontmoet Alki David: de zelfbenoemde ambassadeur voor de onrechtmatige mannen van de # MeToo-bewegingoktober 19, 2019
Inside a stuffy Los Angeles Superior courtroom, Alkiviades “Alki” David, the British-Greek billionaire heir to a Coca-Cola bottling fortune, held forth, stomping around in Louis Vuitton combat boots, purple jeans and a Ramones T-shirt that did little to conceal his body atlas of tattoos. David, who is the man behind the dead-celebrity-resuscitator Hologram USA and a slew of internet streaming services, was representing himself against accusations of sexual harassment.
The suit, filed by Elizabeth Taylor, a former account executive at one of his media companies, FilmOn, claimed that David had, among other things: tied her to a chair with a computer wire and carried her around the company’s Beverly Hills office upside down, exposing her underwear.
David’s legal style, much like his fashion sense, was unorthodox. During the August hearings, he mocked and rebuked Taylor and her lawyer, the victim’s rights advocate Lisa Bloom. Profane outbursts were frequent. During jury selection, David decried Bloom’s “dirty mouth,” called Taylor a “liar” and announced — to the unmistakable sound of gasps — that he found her “deeply unattractive.”
Following a particularly heated exchange, the judge asked David to vacate the courtroom under the escort of a sheriff’s deputy. Several days in, four prospective jurors asked to be excused. They told the judge that they could not remain impartial after observing David’s behavior, and they were dismissed. The judge later sanctioned David almost $10,000 for his conduct and barred him from closing arguments.
David however, remained unfazed. It was just one more battle in a career built on fierce legal fights and media spectacles. “You’ll see there’s a theme in me doing this,” he said.
The Taylor sexual harassment case was one of seven filed against David since 2012. Many are set to go to trial this year; a suit filed in 2016 was settled out of court. In April, a California jury ordered David to pay another employee, Chasity Jones, $11.1 million. She claimed he fired her after she refused to have sex with him.
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As he navigates these lawsuits, David has become something of a self-appointed ambassador for the self-proclaimed wronged men of the #MeToo movement. He says that he has been working with a Washington lobbyist to draft legislation that would make civil employment cases involving wrongful termination and sexual harassment more private, including prohibiting public disclosures of the proceedings, and sealing court records unless there is a guilty verdict. David is enthusiastic about this mission, but he is an improbable emissary for the cause.
The self-described “eccentric billionaire” over the years has ridden out storms of litigation — at times, at his initiation. He’s been sued by all four television networks, Barry Diller and a clutch of media competitors.
Such litigation serves a purpose, he says. As he told The Times, “I’ve engineered the villainous image of myself, because it helps. It’s a noisy brand.”
When David launched his Hologram USA Theater two years ago, he resurrected a pantheon of dead stars from Billie Holiday to Bernie Mac on stage, calling it the “future of live entertainment.”
But a legal fight had already erupted with Pulse Evolution Corp., a hologram rival, over who owned the rights to the technology. In 2013, David said he purchased the projection methods that, a year earlier, had delivered Tupac Shakur to Coachella; Pulse had also obtained a license of the patent to use the same technology but says it was not used for the Tupac concert. The dispute was nasty, brutish and short.
David tagged the Instagram account of then Pulse Chairman John Textor with a photo of Hitler and the caption, “Sorry if I have offended any #neonazis.” Textor accused David of cyberstalking. The pair settled out of court.
Meanwhile, David generated a pile of headlines for beaming a digital avatar of the controversial rapper Chief Keef from a Beverly Hills sound stage into an Indiana music festival, so the rapper could avoid being picked up for outstanding arrest warrants in nearby Chicago. The police shut down the event, but the stunt went viral.
Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged David and Hologram USA Networks Inc. with fraud, registration violations and misleading investors ahead of a planned IPO. According to the suit, the company falsely claimed the exclusive rights to stage shows featuring Whitney Houston, Roy Orbison and Tupac Shakur. David denied the allegations and said he would “vigorously” fight them.
The status of many of his U.S.-based ventures is difficult to ascertain. According to California’s database of registered businesses, Hologram USA Entertainment Inc., Alki David Productions Inc. and FilmOn Media Holdings inc. have been suspended for failing to file their required paperwork. There are no regularly scheduled live shows at the hologram theater, and its listed telephone number is not in service. A spokesperson for David said that FilmOn remains profitable, the hologram theater is being used for private events and his client is largely focused on his SwissX enterprises, his cannabis products company.
For David, the desire to provoke is longstanding. He once offered $1 million for someone to streak nude in front of President Obama on Battlecam.com, his pay-for-play, interactive reality TV show. “I mean being disruptive is invention is creation is the essence of what we are,” he said.
Stocky and with a shock of closely buzzed white hair, David, 51, was born in Nigeria to Greek parents. He speaks with a plummy British accent, the result of a childhood spent in London and studying at posh boarding school. David says he began producing, writing and directing after he studied film at the Royal Academy of Art. His oeuvre includes the 1997 film “Farticus,” about a man who breaks wind every time he sees a beautiful woman, starring Abe Vigoda as Zeus. David is also a bad boy onscreen, having played a bank robber in “The Bank Job.”
His off-screen life appears to be pulled from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” David has had almost as many wives as homes (Malibu, London, Gstaad and Greece). Married and divorced three times, he and wife No. 3 were featured on the reality special “Secrets of a Trophy Wife.” In Los Angeles, he tools around in his Rolls-Royce convertible, often with his therapy dog: a genetically cloned Doberman Pinscher named Vader seated beside him.
In July, David announced a venture with former boxer Mike Tyson to launch a range of CBD products with SwissX, his cannabis manufacturer. He told the Daily Mail the undertaking was “a beautiful marriage of mayhem.” He and Tyson later flew to the Caribbean, ostensibly to help build the industry on the islands.
The man who calls himself the “Pablo Escobar of Hemp,” first has to sort out legal troubles on the island of St. Kitts. In May, David was arrested for allegedly smuggling some $1.3 million worth of cannabis plants, seeds and products on a private jet. He posted $220,000 in bail and pleaded not guilty to the charges, which he attributed to a misunderstanding.
Despite his vast wealth, (he ranked 58th in “The Sunday Times” list of the richest U.K. residents in 2019 with a net worth of £2.6 billion) he views himself as the rebel David going up against the establishment Goliath.
“If an injustice happens to me and I end up having to defend myself, in order for me to turn that into lemonade or turn it into something positive,” he said, “I go all in.”
His Hollywood legal troubles began with FilmOn, a video-on-demand website he founded in 2006. He’d bought up several film libraries to run on it. Then in 2010, he deployed an antenna that picked up local TV signals and streamed them over his service for free. He offered the broadcasters a licensing fee, but instead ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox sued him, claiming copyright infringement.
As he battled the broadcasters, Aereo, a similar TV-streaming service backed by Barry Diller’s IAC, won a series of court battles with networks to operate its service. Angry that Diller’s company seemed to be getting a pass, David rebranded his service, calling it Aereokiller, and began using the URL barrydriller.com. “I did it as a joke and as a protest.”
Diller did not see the humor and sued David, claiming he was exploiting his name.
Amid a flurry of dueling lawsuits, a D.C. district court judge called David “uncouth” and David was quoted as saying the judge could “kiss my hairy Greek ass.”
Eventually, David settled with the networks for $1.6 million and with Diller, who declined to comment. “Remember I was like a Greek kid from London… just trying to cause trouble and make a name,” David recalled. “So this seemed like a good idea.”
Aereo shut down after the Supreme Court ruled that the service violated copyright laws. FilmOn morphed into a kind of bingo basket for the D-list, including talk shows with Andy Dick and Kato Kaelin and programming with Janice Dickinson and Gary Busey.
Lisa Bloom and her mother, the attorney Gloria Allred, are the latest to get caught in David’s crosshairs. Bloom represented not just Taylor but also Jones, who won the $11.1 million award against David. Allred’s law firm is representing two other plaintiffs suing him for sexual harassment. In David’s view, the lawsuits present an opportunity to “unmask a dodgy lawyer” and their “equally dodgy clients.”
David vows to appeal the Jones verdict (last month Jones agreed to a reduction in compensatory damages by $437,120. Punitive damages remain at $8 million), and insisted he would sue Bloom for malicious prosecution. Last week, a judge ordered David to pay Bloom’s attorney fees in the amount of $1,339,948 in the Jones case.
“Mr. David is obsessed with me and my mother but that’s not what the case is about,” said Bloom during the Taylor trial.
Allred declined to comment.
Bloom has come under fire recently thanks to revelations in “She Said,” the new book by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, that when Bloom was representing Harvey Weinstein as he faced accusations of sexual misconduct she offered to help discredit his accusers. Bloom later tweeted an apology, saying she had made a mistake. She declined to comment further.
David, however, has much to say, using a slur to refer to Bloom, Allred and his accusers. But he quickly recalibrates. “They are giving women a terrible [expletive] name. I love women. I respect women. Women are absolutely my equal.”
Yet, he doesn’t exactly refute allegations against him that include taking his pants off in the office, placing his dog’s choke collar on employees, bringing in a stripper to the office, and performing his “mangina” trick — in which he tucks his genitals between his legs.
“I’ve never denied it,” he said, dismissing the incidents as just workplace fun; part of producing “racy content.” He says the actions were taken out of context and the allegations intended to make him look bad.
He does, however, dispute claims of sexual misconduct. “I never touched any of these women,” he said.
Yet, in multiple lawsuits women accuse him of making lewd remarks, unwanted touching, groping and sexual assault.
In her complaint, Jones chronicled many occasions when she said David inappropriately rubbed her neck and shoulders without her consent and rubbed his crotch against her butt. She also described an incident when David called her into his office to ask about her sick mother and then proceeded to put his hand under her skirt.
“It was like working with a wild animal,” Jones said.
In another pending lawsuit, Mahim Khan, a production assistant, alleged that in 2014 David thrust his pelvic area into her face, simulated oral sex, moaned, zipped up his pants and walked away saying, “Thanks, MK.”
David reiterated that he never touched anyone inappropriately. He questioned the agendas of the attorneys representing his accusers as well their motivations and mental fitness.
Back in the hot L.A. courtroom, the Taylor trial continued, at times verging on a circus. One day several people showed up wearing T-shirts bearing the words #slaythedragon, which happened to be David’s favored pejorative for Bloom. He insisted the showing was merely the work of loyal employees.
“My people are always really supportive of me when when they’re not disgruntled,” he said, noting that his staff has shrunk from 200 to 24, the result of “these lawsuits.”
Throughout the trial, an entertainment blog called Shockya! published near-daily coverage, inarguably favorable to David with headlines like “Alki David Strikes Blow Against Lisa Bloom’s Fake #MeToo Machine.” The blog lists its owner as David’s Anakando Media Group. When asked if he owned the site, David said, “I plead the Fifth.”
Despite David’s courtoom antics, the jury deadlocked. It appeared that David’s courtroom behavior presenting himself as a #MeToo victim, and Taylor’s testimony, raised doubts with several jurors. The judge declared a mistrial.
Taylor was dejected by the outcome but vowed to seek a retrial. Working for David “made me feel horrible, it actually changed my life,” she said. “I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to any female again.”
David was defiant, saying it was a “good result,” one that would “send a message: we’re just going to keep battering them down.“ Unlike many who might prefer to move on, David has the considerable resources to fight.
He vowed to appeal the $11.1.-million judgment against him, but still faces multiple lawsuits.
His third trial on allegations of sexual battery and wrongful termination began last month. Lauren Reeves, a former comedy writer at Hologram USA, alleges that in 2016 David put his hands on her throat and pushed her chair into the wall, banging her head, among other claims. According to her suit, David told Reeves that he needed to buy supplies for his “rape room.”
David said the allegations were “all made up” or “twisted versions taken out of context of what happened.”
Until the judge strongly advised against his doing so, David planned to represent himself; eventually he agreed the lawyers for his companies could argue his case. But he remained defiant. “Listen, my propaganda won’t change,” he proclaimed. “This is me.”
A jury on Friday found in favor of Reeves, awarding her $650,000 in compensatory damages. The jury also found malice and on Tuesday it ordered David to pay Reeves an additional $4.35 million in punitive damages.
David, who was not in court, responded to the verdict by phone from Las Vegas, saying “they’re ridiculous liars,” before launching into a profanity-laced screed about these “stupid-ass thieving lawyers” the “broken system” and his accuser. “I’m done talking!” he yelled. Then he hung up.
And perhaps for the first time in weeks, David had nothing to say.