Federal prosecutors in New York have launched a criminal investigation into Harvey Weinstein, in addition to a previously disclosed probe by the Manhattan District Attorney, the film producer’s lawyer said in a court filing.
Lawyer Benjamin Brafman said in a declaration filed on May 3 in the Weinstein Co’s bankruptcy proceedings that he had been advised that Weinstein was a “principal target” of an investigation being conducted by the US attorney’s office in Manhattan.
“I am trying my very best to persuade both the federal and state prosecutors that he should not be arrested and or indicted, because he did not knowingly violate the law,” Mr Brafman wrote.
He said the allegations that Weinstein forced himself on women were “entirely without merit”.
“As the court can appreciate, saving someone from unwarranted criminal prosecution is far more significant that having a baseless prosecution implode months or years from now after Mr Weinstein’s life and the lives of his family have been irreparably destroyed,” he added.
Scores of women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate comments to rape.
Weinstein is under criminal investigation in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and London. He has not been charged with any crimes, though police in New York have said publicly that they believe there is enough evidence to make an arrest.
Two law enforcement officials confirmed that Weinstein has been under federal investigation.
Mr Brafman did not immediately return a message from the AP on Wednesday but told The Wall Street Journal that he had met with federal prosecutors “in an attempt to dissuade them from proceeding”.
Sex crimes, aside from child pornography cases, are usually handled by local prosecutors under state law, but federal charges can be brought under certain circumstances if a person brings a victim across state lines for the purpose of a sexual assault or the attack happens on federal lands.
In the bankruptcy case, Mr Brafman sought access to emails and correspondence under the control of the Weinstein Co to help him in his defence efforts.
Those documents included emails that he said showed that women who have accused Weinstein of violent assaults later exchanged friendly messages with him. The bankruptcy judge ultimately granted access.
The company sought bankruptcy protection in March.
A Delaware bankruptcy judge approved a private equity firm’s purchase of the Weinstein Co.
Dallas-based Lantern Capital offered to pay 310 million US dollars (£232 million) in cash for the Weinstein Co’s assets and to assume 127 million dollars (£95 million) in project-related debt.
It also agreed to cover obligations related to the assumption of certain contracts and leases.