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Allegations against ex-Hollywood agent Tyler Grasham, fired by APA, renew fears about vulnerability of young performers

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Gus Garcia-Roberts, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — For Jack Edwards, a 15-year-old British actor, it seemed like "the opportunity of a lifetime" — watching a play in London's West End with a Hollywood agent.

In April 2010, the agent, Tyler Grasham of the Beverly Hills-based Agency for the Performing Arts, or APA, was in town with an actor client, and through a mutual friend Edwards and a couple of other theater students had snagged an invite to join them for a showing of Grease.

But the night quickly took a dark turn, according to Edwards and another friend who spoke to The Times, when the then-44-old-year-old agent bought the teenagers round after round of alcoholic drinks before and after the show.

Edwards said that he ended up in Grasham's hotel room, swallowing a pill that the agent gave him to calm his anxiety. He next awoke in a bed, he said, feeling physically unable to move while Grasham fondled his genitals. Edwards' friend, who said he was in the next bed over, recalled hearing Edwards struggle.

Edwards, now 23, made these allegations in an interview and a written statement submitted to The Times. He also produced an email that he said Grasham sent him a month after the alleged assault, asking for the young actor's headshot and resume. Edwards' friend, who asked not to be named, independently corroborated details of the account in an interview.

The allegations of sexual assault against a minor in Britain — where there is no statute of limitations on sex crimes — are among the most serious in a string of similar allegations recently levied against the veteran agent, whom APA fired Oct. 20.

Grasham has not responded to numerous phone and internet messages seeking comment. He also did not respond to a note left at the door of his home by a Times reporter Wednesday evening.

Allegations add up

The Times interviewed eight young male actors and film industry professionals who alleged they were sexually assaulted or harassed by Grasham. Five of the accusers said that Grasham made unwanted sexual advances toward them while they were under the influence of alcohol, though they were not of legal drinking age.

The accusers describe Grasham as attempting to use his power as a Hollywood agent as a sexual enticement and to keep them from speaking out.

Two alleged victims have taken their accusations to police. The Los Angeles Police Department has confirmed that it is investigating a sexual assault complaint which film editor Lucas Ozarowski, 27, filed against Grasham on Oct. 20. The complaint alleged that Grasham "reached into [Ozarowski's] pants and grabbed his genitals" at the agent's home, according to a copy of a police report that Ozarowski provided to The Times.

A ninth accuser -- 20-year-old actor Tyler Cornell -- also filed a complaint with the LAPD last week, alleging that Grasham sexually assaulted him earlier this year, the actor's representative said. Cornell declined to comment. An LAPD spokeswoman said last week that the agency was investigating a report of criminal sodomy against Grasham.

In a written statement, an APA spokesperson said the company "takes these allegations very seriously and our hearts go out to anyone who may have been affected." The agency said it had retained an independent investigator to "look into these claims the moment they came to our attention. That investigation is ongoing and we will take appropriate action based on the findings."

The statement added that the agency "never made financial payouts to or settlements with anyone in this regard."

Several of Grasham's accusers, including Edwards, said that they have been contacted by a Los Angeles attorney who is conducting the investigation for APA.

The allegations — which follow the widening sexual misconduct scandal surrounding disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — have renewed attention on longstanding complaints in Hollywood about the sexual abuse of child actors. Known cases include Jason Michael Handy, a Nickelodeon production assistant forced to register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to lewd acts on a child; Marty Weiss, a talent manager whose clients included child actors for Nickelodeon and Disney, who pleaded guilty to child molestation; and Bob Villard, a child manager who was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy.

The issue prompted a 2014 documentary, An Open Secret, by filmmaker Amy Berg. Former child actor Corey Feldman has announced he is attempting to raise $10 million for a film exposing pedophiles in Hollywood. Additionally, actor Kevin Spacey issued an apology this week after an actor said Spacey made an unwanted sexual advance toward him in 1986 when the victim was a 14-year-old boy.

"We're getting to where people are more willing to talk about it, but it's a subject that people don't like to discuss — it's very uncomfortable," said Paula Dorn, co-founder of the BizParentz Foundation, a California-based advocacy group for young performers and their parents. "In an industry where there's money to be made, there's an extra layer of secrecy."

APA's clients

Founded in 1962 by former MCA agents, APA is known as a venerable and scrappy underdog to the town's glossier agencies.

It represents a variety of mainly lesser-known clients -- actors, comedians, musicians and public speakers.

APA's reputation as a perennial also-ran made it the butt of insider humor on HBO's Entourage, when fictional agent Ari Gold profanely asked who invited the agency to a meeting of major Hollywood firms.

But in the insular world of child representation the firm is very much in the big leagues, industry experts say.

Grasham's specialty — child actors — filled a niche. Before his firing, film information site IMDb listed more than 50 clients under Grasham's name, many of them under 18. His most prominent client was 14-year-old Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things and It fame, who left the agency as the Grasham scandal unfolded last month. He did so after filmmaker Blaise Godbe Lipman alleged in a Facebook post and interview that, as a teenage actor a decade ago, the agent had "fed" him alcohol and then sexually assaulted him.

The habitual nature of Grasham's alleged sexual conduct has raised questions about how APA could have been in the dark about the reputation of the agent who worked there for more than a decade.

In his initial statement on social media, Lipman said that he found it "incredibly difficult" to believe that APA did not know of his alleged misconduct.

In an interview, Lipman said he did not inform APA of his allegations at the time because the agent was already so notorious. "Anybody who knew him -- personally, socially, in the gay community -- knew ... how he surrounded himself with young actor boys," Lipman said.

Was APA aware?

The APA has said it was unaware of Grasham's behavior. Adam Levin, an attorney representing APA, said in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that assertions the agency knew about Grasham's behavior were false and that senior management never received a complaint from parents about his conduct.

"If it had, APA would have taken prompt action to investigate and address such serious allegations," Levin wrote.

Michael Podraza, a business and legal affairs manager for Lionsgate, said that when he was a 27-year-old actor, Grasham texted him an offer that he would help him get roles if he had sex with him.

Grasham's behavior was so well known in the industry, Podraza said, that he decided not to speak out publicly. "He wasn't hiding," he said. "This guy was untouchable, and I was trying to not be blacklisted."

Two former employees who separately spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals from APA said Grasham's allegedly inappropriate conduct with underage clients was known within the agency.

An employee who had a desk close to Grasham's contended to have heard him on multiple occasions arrange for his underage clients to sleep over, with plans involving baths, massages, wine and marijuana.

Another of Grasham's former colleagues said that such behavior with young male clients was "common knowledge" in the agency.

A spokesperson for APA declined to comment specifically on the purported email sent to Gosnell.

The agency has disputed assertions that it received complaints about Grasham's alleged behavior.

For many of Grasham's accusers, fear of being ostracized from Hollywood or otherwise embarrassed kept them from speaking out about him until others had.

Edwards, the British TV actor and theater student, said he couldn't bear for his parents to learn the details of the alleged assault.

But reading the other accusers' accounts made Edwards "sick," he said. "I just want to make sure he can never work with children again."

FEATURED IMAGE:  Actors Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Finn Wolfhard (right) of Netflix's Stranger Things pose during a press conference during the Comic Con festival on October 29, 2017 at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris. Wolfhard was one of ousted APA talent agent Tyler Grasham's clients. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAYBERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images