Ex-CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch accused of sexually exploiting young men: BBC report

In this Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009, file photo, Michael Jeffries, former CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, speaks at the annual National Retail Federation conference in New York. A BBC investigation revealed that Jeffries and his partner Matthew Smith were at the center of several allegations of sexual misconduct.
In this Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009, file photo, Michael Jeffries, former CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, speaks at the annual National Retail Federation conference in New York. A BBC investigation revealed that Jeffries and his partner Matthew Smith were at the center of several allegations of sexual misconduct.

Abercrombie & Fitch has launched an investigation into allegations that former CEO Mike Jeffries sexually exploited young men during his time as CEO of the company following a BBC News investigation.

The investigation released on Monday reported that Jeffries, 79, and his partner, Matthew Smith, were at the center of "a highly organized network" in which young men were recruited for sex events hosted by the couple across the world.

Over the course of a two-year investigation, the BBC said it spoke with 12 men who either attended or organized the events, which took place between 2009 and 2015.

Jeffries and Smith have not responded to requests for comment by the BBC and other outlets. USA TODAY could not find attorneys who represent them.

In a statement to USA TODAY, Abercrombie & Fitch said the company is "appalled and disgusted by the behavior described in the allegations against Mr. Jeffries."

The company said they've hired a law firm to independently investigate the alleged sexual misconduct, adding that current company leadership was not aware of the allegations.

Jeffries spent 22 years at Abercrombie before stepping down as CEO in 2014 with a retirement package worth around $25 million, according to the BBC. He's still receiving annual payment as part of that package.

More: Abercrombie & Fitch ditches plan to consider selling itself amid retail woes

Report: Middle men recruited young men with modelling promises

Clothing on display at the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in West Town Mall in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Clothing on display at the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing store in West Town Mall in Knoxville, Tennessee.

As the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Jeffries built the company's brand with advertisements that drew on sex-appeal, specifically those of shirtless men.

It was promises of modeling in those ads that helped middlemen recruit young men to the sex events hosted by Jeffries and Smith, the BBC reported.

David Bradberry told the BBC that met a middleman who recruited him to an event through an agent in 2010. Bradberry, who was 23 at the time, told the BBC that his initial meeting with the middleman did not involve anything relating to sex. The conversations later shifted.

"Jim made it clear to me that unless I let him perform (a sex act) on me, that I would not be meeting with Abercrombie & Fitch or Mike Jeffries," Bradberry told the BBC, referring to James Jacobson, who the outlet identified as middleman for Jeffries and Smith.

Statewide roundup: 6th-grade teacher, college professor among 160 arrested in Ohio human trafficking bust

More: Russell Brand's assault, rape allegations being investigated: What his accusers say happened

Fame is at the 'price of compliance'

The exterior of a Abercrombie and Fitch store in the Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio on June 25, 2015.
The exterior of a Abercrombie and Fitch store in the Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio on June 25, 2015.

Eight of the men interviewed by the BBC said they were either abused or witnessed misconduct. The men described the person who recruited them for the events as a man missing part of his nose, which was covered with a snakeskin patch. That man was Jacobson, according to the BBC.

In a statement through his lawyer, Jacobson told the BBC that he was offended by any claims of "any coercive, deceptive or forceful behavior on my part" and had "no knowledge of any such conduct by others."

The men were allegedly also paid to attend events and signed non-disclosure agreements. Half of them were unaware that the events involved sex, and the other half knew sex was part of the events but it wasn't clear what was expected of them, the BBC reported.

The vast majority of the men interviewed described the events as harmful.

"I was paralyzed," Bradberry said. "It was like he was selling fame. And the price was compliance."

He said he had been made to believe "this is where everybody gets their start."

Two former U.S. prosecutors who reviewed the BBC investigation and the men's first-hand accounts have called on prosecutors to investigate whether Jeffries should face charges, the outlet reported.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-Abercrombie & Fitch CEO accused of sexual exploitation in BBC report