Roethlisberger accused of sexual assault at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
July 21, 2009
RENO – A woman has filed a lawsuit accusing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of raping her last summer in his penthouse hotel room at a casino in Lake Tahoe during a celebrity golf tournament.
Roethlisberger’s lawyer denied the allegations Tuesday, and noted that the woman, who was working at the hotel as an executive casino host, never went to the authorities.
“Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone. The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct,” David Cornwell said in a statement. “If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated.”
Cornwell did not immediately reply to a phone message and e-mail seeking more comment.
The suit also alleges hotel officials for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe went to great lengths to cover up the incident.
It seeks a minimum of $440,000 in damages from the quarterback, at least $50,000 in damages from the Harrah’s officials and an unspecified amount of punitive damages “sufficient to deter” Roethlisberger and the others “from engaging in such conduct in the future.”
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The woman’s lawsuit says she didn’t file a criminal complaint because she feared Harrah’s would side with Roethlisberger and she would be fired. The suit doesn’t say whether the woman is still working for Harrah’s.
John Packer, spokesman for the hotel-casino, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Harrah’s Entertainment, the hotel-casino’s parent company, declined comment.
“We don’t comment on pending legal matters,” Jacqueline Peterson said from company headquarters in Las Vegas.
The Steelers and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said they were looking into the allegations against Roethlisberger, one of the biggest names in sports. He has won two Super Bowls in his five-year career, and is about to report to training camp as the Steelers look to repeat as champions.
The woman said Roethlisberger struck up a friendly conversation at her desk during the golf tournament last July.
The next night, she said he telephoned her to tell her his television sound system wasn’t working and asked her to look at it. She said she was unable to find a technician so she handled it herself because she had been told it was important to please the celebrities.
In Roethlisberger’s room she said she determined the TV was functioning properly but as she turned to leave, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback blocked her exit, the suit claims.
The lawsuit said he grabbed her and started to kiss her. It said she was “shocked and stunned that this previously friendly man, that appeared to be a gentleman in her previous contacts with him was suddenly preventing her from leaving, was assaulting her and battering her.”
She said she feared that because he was a football player he could or would physically harm her if she tried to fight him off, but that she objected and protested several times.
“But instead of stopping, Roethlisberger began fondling plaintiff through her dress and between her legs,” the suit said. He then “held her against her will and physically moved plaintiff and pushed her onto his bed” where he raped her, the suit says.
She told him “You don’t want to do this,” and begged him “I am not on any type of birth control.”
Afterward, he asked if there was a security camera in the hallway. She said he then instructed her to claim she had repaired his television if anyone asked why she was in his room.
The lawsuit says the woman required hospitalization for treatment for depression after the alleged attack.
Efforts to reach the woman Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The woman’s lawyer, Calvin R. Dunlap, of Reno, declined to answer questions about the lack of a criminal complaint and why the civil action was brought a year after the incident allegedly took place.
“Neither I nor our client will be making any comment,” Dunlap said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “We believe the matter should be resolved in court rather than in the media.”
Teresa Duffy, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office in Douglas County, which includes part of Lake Tahoe, said no complaints were filed about such an incident either with sheriff’s deputies or the district attorney’s office.
The lawsuit also names eight Harrah’s employees as defendants and alleges the cover-up involved the chief of security at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and was carried out with the knowledge of John Koster, president of Harrah’s northern Nevada operations.
The suit says Harrah’s security chief Guy Hyder gained the trust of the woman’s parents while she was hospitalized for depression, and persuaded them to give him a key to her home. She said Hyder and others then entered her home and allegedly erased information from her computer and confiscated it.
The lawsuit claims that when the woman first reported the attack to Hyder he dismissed her distress and crying and said she was “overreacting.”
The woman said Hyder told her that “most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger” and that “Koster would love you even more if he knew about this” because Koster was good friends with Roethlisberger and admired him greatly.
The suit also accuses the defendants of defaming her, including suggesting she was sexually promiscuous.
It said they also made false statements about her physical and mental health, including reportedly telling others she was hospitalized for schizophrenia when they knew her “problems arose out of having been sexually assaulted.”
“I don’t know enough of the details, but it’s a civil lawsuit, it’s something that we obviously will look into,” Goodell said when asked about it in New York during an unrelated news conference. “I’ve been in touch with the Steelers about it.”
Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said the team is aware of the lawsuit, and “we are gathering information.”
Lockett confirmed that Roethlisberger had canceled a news conference scheduled Thursday to promote Shaquille O’Neal’s new TV series that debuts on ABC on Aug. 8, “Shaq Vs.” Roethlisberger is one of the top athletes the NBA All-Star center intends to challenge in a series of skills tests in their respective sports.
The Steelers clinched a 27-23 Super Bowl win over the Arizona Cardinals this year when Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes for the game-winning touchdown in the game’s closing seconds.
Last week Roethlisberger played in the 20th annual American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament at Lake Tahoe, finishing tied for 30th in the field of 89 golfers. It was not immediately known if he stayed at Harrah’s.
– AP writer Dan Nephin in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.