Two Indigenous women from Canada are part of a proposed class-action lawsuit against disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygard.
Court documents filed in New York show 57 alleged victims – 30 from Canada – are seeking damages through a civil claim for decades of alleged sexual abuse involving women and girls.
Two of the women are Indigenous and from Manitoba, where Nygard’s international fashion empire was born and thrived until the FBI and New York City police raided his Times Square headquarters in 2020.
A criminal indictment accuses the 79-year-old of nine counts, including racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking of a minor, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and two counts of transportation for purpose of prostitution.
He was arrested by the RCMP in Winnipeg on Dec. 14 and remains in custody pending bail and extradition applications.
Nygard has denied the allegations in the lawsuit and the indictment.
Serena Hickes, an Inuk woman who grew up in northern Manitoba, is one of two Indigenous plaintiffs. She said Nygard’s arrest provided a huge sense of relief.
“I have been in flight or fight mode for 30 years,” she said in an interview.
Hickes said she was a new mother and a clerk in a Nygard store when he visited the retail outlet.
Afterwards, he said, “‘See you in New York.’ It was so matter-of-fact.”
Hickes said a female manager followed up by giving her a plane ticket to New York – alleged evidence of sex trafficking, according to the lawsuit.
Hickes said she didn’t use the plane ticket, and left the job and the city.
She said the lawsuit, which, like the criminal indictment, accuses Nygard of rape, sexual assault and human trafficking, is on hold pending the criminal investigation.
But knowing Nygard was behind bars gave her the courage to finally go public with her story. She said she filed a criminal complaint with Winnipeg police in late 2020 but no charge has been laid.
Hickes is receiving counselling from Toronto-based therapist Shannon Moroney, who is helping prepare plaintiffs for the 270-page lawsuit filed by New York City lawyer Greg Gutzler.
The allegations against Nygard date back to the 1970s, according to the lawsuit and the indictment.
He is accused of recruiting women for himself, as well as his friends and business associates, who allegedly drugged and assaulted those who did not comply with their sexual demands.
The “pamper parties” and all supplies — including alcohol and drugs provided to minors — were paid for by the Nygard Companies, the lawsuit alleged.
None of the charges or allegations have been tested or proven in court.
Moroney said many of the 57 plaintiffs come from “impoverished” backgrounds.
The class action lawsuit and the indictment state Nygard “groomed girls and young women, who wanted to become models or were models and actresses, with offers of professional success via his company.”
Added the lawsuit: “In addition to using ‘pamper parties’ to lure and entice his victims, Nygard also uses the Nygard Companies’ brand, resources, and influence and power in the fashion industry to lure and entice victims to the Nygard Companies’ corporate offices, executive suites, and other properties in Marina Del Rey, New York City, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto.”
The FBI and U.S. Dept. of Justice are encouraging more victims to come forward as part of a sweeping probe of activities at Nygard properties in Falcon Lake, Man., Nygard Quay in the Bahamas, and Toronto, New York, California, and other locations.
Alleged the lawsuit: “Nygard used his considerable influence in the fashion industry, his wealth, his power through corruption of officials, and a network of company employees under his direction, to kidnap, groom and entice children and women.
“He uses a combination of his wealth, influence, power, and the victims’ socioeconomic vulnerabilities to turn the victims into his full-time sex workers,” the lawsuit added, noting: “Nygard’s full-time sex workers are forced to act as his personal servants, satisfy his demands for sex acts, and recruit new victims for him to engage in commercial sex acts with.”
The lawsuit alleged that “several of Nygard’s victims were also coerced into labor trafficking that directly benefited the Nygard Companies.
“Those being labor trafficked were forced to work exceptionally long hours with little sleep for no additional payment,” it said. “Often, the jobs they were hired to perform would be expanded by Nygard to include countless other duties with no additional pay.”
While there is “a lot of relief” at his arrest, Moroney noted plaintiffs are also feeling shame and sadness.
“There is some mixed emotions, [wondering] why did it take so long? Some disbelief, still, and anger,” she said.
The lawsuit accuses Nygard of using “his financial resources, political power, and influence in the Bahamas and elsewhere, and threats of force to intimidate his victims…and prevent them from coming forward.”
Reach the FBI by calling 1-800-CALLFBI (1-800-225-5324), and the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010.