More than 40 years after he was first arrested for rape, fashion tycoon Peter Nygard appeared for a bail hearing by video at Winnipeg’s courthouse Tuesday as he faces extradition to the U.S. on a litany of sex trafficking charges.
Just a few minutes’ drive from the high school the 79-year-old attended, the courts are situated in Manitoba’s sprawling capital city where Nygard’s family once allegedly claimed he “owned” the cops.
At least that’s according to a legal complaint filed by 57 of Nygard’s sexual assault accusers in June last year. Though the class-action suit alleging Nygard drugged and raped women and girls as young as 14 was put on hold last summer, a lawyer representing victims in the case told VICE World News that women continue to come forward with stories of abuse at the hands of Nygard. When the case resumes, 84 women are expected to seek damages for alleged assaults in Winnipeg, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, and at Nygard’s gated compound in the Bahamas.
Nygard was arrested in December on nine counts of sex trafficking and racketeering and was not granted bail Tuesday, though arguments will continue Wednesday. His lawyers have denied the charges and argued that keeping Nygard in custody during the coronavirus pandemic is “nothing short of a death sentence and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.” Many Canadian prisons have faced COVID-19 outbreaks.
The allegations against Nygard have yet to be proven in court, but the sheer number of stories raises questions about how someone accused of such reprehensible crimes might have avoided accountability for so long.
Nygard was first arrested for rape in 1980, before many of his alleged victims were born. This charge gets a short mention in a gushing Canadian Press profile that appeared in the Globe and Mail a few months later which devoted far more column inches to describing his polar bearskin rug and his bare chest.
Thirty-eight years old at the time, Nygard was the sole owner and operator of Tan Jay, a $50 million garment business still trying to break into markets outside of Canada. The CP reporter noted the Tan Jay headquarters’ mirrored ceiling, remote-control bed, and hidden shower and sauna. It isn’t until near the end of the piece that the rape allegation is addressed.
Nygard was arrested in January of that year, and the charges were dropped in June. “The 18-year-old complainant in the case refused to testify,” reads the Globe article. “Most prominent people would lie low after such a scrape with justice, but immediately after the hearing Mr. Nygard handed out a prepared statement criticizing police for poor judgment in charging him.”
It wouldn’t be the last time that Nygard tried to influence the police, court documents say. As his business grew, Nygard grew more systematic in his efforts to recruit and silence the women he assaulted, according to multiple lawsuits against Nygard and his associates. His staff arranged massive parties that tracked the physical attributes of female guests in a database that Nygard allegedly reviewed from his bedroom. All guests were required to sign non-disclosure agreements, and nobody was allowed to leave the gated property without permission from Nygard.
Nygard employed “girlfriends,” many of them his former alleged victims, to recruit more young women and girls to attend the “pamper parties,” which enticed young women in the Bahamas with free manicures or massages. Many of the women were promised modelling and business opportunities, according to court records. In dozens of cases they say their drinks were spiked, and when they regained consciousness, Nygard threw a couple hundred dollars in U.S. cash in their direction, seemingly confident that police would not intervene.
Nygard was “known to police,” but not in the way that law enforcement officials habitually cast suspicion on Black and brown victims of shootings.
According to court documents filed in the Southern District of New York, Nygard played tennis regularly with a Bahamian police chief and had local law enforcement on his payroll. The civil complaint alleges his company made regular payments as large as $10,000 to local police, and that Nygard had even offered his paid “girlfriends” to cops for sexual services.
Bahamian police superintendents Allan Emmanuel, Stephen Dean, and Wendall Deveaux were regularly invited to the fashion mogul’s estate for parties, according to court records.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force did not immediately respond to phone or email requests.
“Nygard did so to gain influence with these politicians and law enforcement officials, as well as to gain compromising information about them in order to exert his influence over them,” reads a June 2020 complaint. “He used them to help ‘bury’ reports of sexual abuse, supply information regarding ongoing investigations into his sex crimes, trace the whereabouts of people who crossed him, and intimidate, threaten to arrest, and otherwise harass his victims to ensure they would not come forward.”
Nygard’s political leverage extended into Canada and the U.S., according to his own company’s website. Nygard Companies named relationships with former Canadian prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien, and Nygard often showed off a jacket with the U.S. president’s seal on it—gifted to him by former president George H.W. Bush.
It was Nygard’s nephew who allegedly told a 20-year-old victim that his uncle “owned” local Winnipeg police in 1993. The woman, who was offered a modelling opportunity, was allegedly held against her will for three days and raped repeatedly.
Constable Dani McKinnon, media coordinator with Winnipeg Police Service, said that she did not have knowledge of the allegation or whether it was investigated on Tuesday. In an email, public information officer Jay Murray added Winnipeg police could not comment on a lawsuit currently before the courts.
Nygard stepped down from his company in February 2020 in the wake of an FBI raid. Nygard’s own sons started cooperating with agents in New York soon after.
“I’m thrilled that justice will be served and that Peter J. Nygard has been arrested,” Nygard’s son Kai wrote in an Instagram post on December 15. (Two of Nygard’s sons filed yet another lawsuit alleging Nygard paid one of his “girlfriends” to take their virginity when they were underage teens.) “I’ve been working behind the scenes for the last eight nine months to see this happen.”
In the post, which has since been made private, Kai warned Nygard’s other enablers, “you’re next.”
“You’re not able to help cover this stuff up. The time has come, the reckoning has come.”
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