Runway to Rape: The Rise and Fall of Anand Jon

Fashion designer convicted of sexual assaults of models maintains innocence.

ByJim Avila, Teri Whitcraft and Lynn Redmond
December 17, 2009, 3:14 PM

Dec. 17, 2009— -- Fashion designer Anand Jon never thought a prison jumpsuit and steel handcuffs would be his only accessories.

Before he was accused of undressing young girls behind closed doors, the 35-year-old Indian-born designer was the toast of New York's fashion scene. A daring designer with a long black mane of curls, he exuded a sense of international mystery, arrogance and sex appeal -- and he was on the cusp of something big.

Jon, a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, was determined to make his mark as an up-and-coming designer. He had the right credentials -- having interned with Donna Karen and partied with Gianni Versace -- and was frequently seen out with his trademark entourage of young, scantily clad women.

"They were just girls who wanted to be in the eye of fame, around people who were powerful," said fashion model Xenia Semias. "It was always girls coming in and out, girls fitting. Even celebrities would come in there and hang out."

Jon dressed socialites like Paris Hilton and Lydia Hearst and surrounded himself in the world of celebrity.

"His strategy was to make friends with celebrities -- to be seen with them, to get them to wear his clothes, where people who mattered would notice," said journalist Sharon Waxman, who covered the Anand Jon case for the Los Angeles Magazine and her Hollywood Web site,

And people did notice. In January 2007, Jon was featured in Newsweek as one of the hottest new designers to watch. From there, his career appeared to take off; he appeared as a celebrity judge on "America's Next Top Model," and was filming his own reality TV show.

Jon had earned a reputation for sexy clothes on sexy girls, but some in the fashion world thought his designs went too far.

"The most famous designers have shown sheer blouses, but there's something different about the way he did it that felt dirty," said fashion critic Robert Verdi. "The girls were, always really young, they weren't recognizable faces. It just felt arbitrary and it felt gratuitous."

CLICK HERE to see photos of Anand Jon through the years.

While his fashions were making a sensation, Jon's explosive personality and dangerous choices took him and the scantily clad girls who clung to him right to the edge...and perhaps over it.

"The things that you heard were that he was a predator. That he would come on to these young models, and promise them whatever he could to get his way with them," Verdi said.

Most of the girls -- often from small towns -- were thrilled to be noticed, especially by a famous designer.

Jessie, 18, fit the bill. A small-town makeup artist with a modeling portfolio, who loved being in front of the camera, Jessie said that Jon contacted her through MySpace and invited her to fly to Los Angeles on his dime. The aspiring model thought it was her big break.

"He wrote me an e-mail, saying that, you know, he loved my look ...It was, 'can I set up a photo shoot with you?' And I said, sure. I had Googled him online and seen that he had worked with Paris Hilton and all of those celebrities."

But she didn't know that her dream would turn into a nightmare.

Aspiring Model Claims She Was Raped

In spring 2007, just as his new jeans line was about to be launched, Jon invited the aspiring model to his Beverly Hills, Calif., apartment. Jessie told "20/20" that Jon had instructed her to be quiet because his two assistants were asleep in their bedroom. Then, he proceeded to rape her.

"He asked me to come back to the bedroom. So I did. At that point he had started kissing me. I was completely freaked out. He kept kissing my neck and my chest and he had tried to rip off my cloth -- my shirt at that time. And I was just, you know, 'No. What are you doing? You need to stop.' At that point put his full body weight on top of me and suddenly he started to rape me," she said. "I was looking at him, like, in terror."

The next day, Jesse went to police. Jon was arrested and charged with sexual assault.

Over the next few months, dozens of models came forward -- all with similar stories. They claimed that Jon would target them on the Internet or through small modeling agencies in the heartland, convince them that he could make them the next "it" girl, lure them to his studio in New York or L.A., and within a short time, assault or attempt to rape them.

Home video he shot showed young models posing, stripping and undressing for him in his apartment at his direction.

Anand denied the allegations. He claimed not to be a sexual predator as accused, but instead the victim of a sinister plot by disgruntled models -- fueled by jealousy and greed.

"I just think they wanted revenge because they expected Anand to help them further their modeling careers and he didn't do that," said one of Jon's former models, Brittney Harrington.

Jon and his supporters claimed that the conspiracy against him was led by one of his former assistants, Holly -- herself an aspiring model whom he initially met during a casting call.

"I know how she planned to get these girls together against Anand Jon," said Lauren Boyette, one of Jon's closest friends. "[Holly] had model lists with about 300 names. She stole that from Anand's apartment. She called each and every girl and told them even if nothing happened to you just lie, you'll get fame and money."

Holly denied that allegation. She told "20/20" that she called only one girl and never have access to hundreds of models' phone numbers.

But why would Holly want to set up her boss? What was her axe to grind? Holly told "20/20" that she didn't like Jon because he assaulted her the first day they met.

"He said, 'Are you a bad girl like Paris Hilton. Or are you a nice girl,' and I was like, 'I'm nice'… he was like, 'well, nice girls don't get anywhere,'" Holly said. "I went up to the door and he locked it on me and it all happened so fast, and then he forcibly put my head down to his front area."

But Holly and some other alleged victims kept in touch with Jon after their alleged attacks. Holly even followed Jon to California to live with him and work as his assistant for free.

"He threatened me and he said don't ever tell anyone, I could make your career, I could make it awful, you're going to go nowhere if you say anything," Holly recalled.

Holly denied being a ringleader in a conspiracy plot against Jon. But journalist Sharon Waxman, who covered the case, is skeptical about Holly's assault allegations.

"At a certain point, you do ask yourself the question, how many times do you follow this guy across the country if he is a guy who's raping you?" Waxman asked.

Jon's Cut-Throat Campaign

The fashion designer and his sister Sanjana Jon organized a cut-throat campaign against the models, using minions and surrogates to attack their reputations -- not just their virtue.

With Jon behind bars, Sanjana led his hard-ball campaign for justice, organizing strategic public protests and candlelight vigils in New York, India and Los Angeles.

His supporters made a poster entitled "Prostitutes for the Prosecution" and artfully photoshopped the victims to appear like cheap call girls. Adding blacked out bars to hide bra straps and bikini tops, some of the women who were not nude in their modeling shots suddenly looked X-rated. Others, like Holly, were topless or shown in pornographic poses.

Poster subtitles claim that rather than the "naïve, helpless, sheltered small-town girls" portrayed by the prosecution, the victims were actually "gold-digging drug addicts, porn stars and prostitutes."

Sanjana said in a "he said/she said" case -- with no witnesses to the alleged attacks -- it was crucial for the defense to show that the victims could not be trusted.

"It's important that people understand in this case there wasn't a scratch on anybody. And the only person, the only allegation of rape, Jessie, was on a rape kit that was negative," said Sanjana.

But that's not quite the whole story. Jessie's rape kit -- the exam given by a trained nurse at the direction of police -- showed that Anand's sperm matched by DNA in the young woman's vagina, but did not show any sign of forced sex or trauma. This became the key to Anand's defense, supporting the designer's story that the sex was consensual.

"The whole case was based on testimony. It was what she said. And Anand took the polygraph, and he passed it, which means he is telling the truth," Sanjana told "20/20."

Polygraphs are inadmissible in court and sexual assault experts say most rape kits show no evidence of trauma, but if Anand was attacking woman after woman, with Holly in the next room, why didn't she hear anything? Or confront her boss or go to police?

"I never suspected that he was doing anything else to any other girls 'cause he never told me anything," Holly said. "Now that I look back on it, I know I was brainwashed."

But in Hollywood, the truth can change in an instant. Lauren Boyette, who told "2020" that Holly called each girl and told them to speak out about Anand, recanted her story six months later to "20/20," saying that Holly never did that.

Jon's two-month trial began in September 2008. The prosecution showed graphic video of a 17-year-old model being sexually assaulted on camera. Court watchers told "20/20" that the image of this young girl's legs shaking uncontrollably during the actual assault set the stage for all the other victims who would take the stand. Model after model testified and almost immediately broke down in tears.

Jon was not formally charged in Holly's case; she testified only as a witness in California because her attack allegedly occured in New York.

At trial, there were nine victims in all -- prosecutors dropped 11 of the weakest plaintiffs on the eve of the proceedings -- but each of the remaining models told a devastating, if remarkably similar tale.

"It almost became this, sexual nightmare that was being retold day after day," said Steven Mikulan, who covered the trial for LA Weekly. "Here you had flesh and blood witnesses on the stand who were never more than a few inches away from the Kleenex box making an incredible impact on these six men and six women."

Evidence found on Jon's computer helped prosecutors portray him as a predator with a fetish for humiliating young girls through painful sex. A brag sheet of young conquests graphically listed girls by name, sex act performed, and how much hurt was inflicted was entered into evidence. Anand's attorney said the list has nothing to do with the case and was made years before the rape charges.

"It's about sadism, it's about inflicting injury," said professor of psychiatric nursing Dr. Ann Burgess, who testified for the prosecution. "How he is humiliating them, exploiting them and hurting them."

In opening arguments, the defense claimed that all the sex was consensual and driven by star-struck girls.

"They came here not to just model, but they expected and consented, if it occurred, to a sexual relationship with him. This was part of the reason why they came," said Lenny Levine, one of Jon's five person defense team in the trial.

Jon's defense team used many of the victim's own words and pictures against them, confronting the women with text messages and provocative poses sent to Anand Jon before the alleged assaults.

"Even when they went home, and were hundreds and thousands of miles away, safe from any untold advances by him, they continued to communicate with him," Levine said.

"There was one woman who was confronted with a phone bill in which she had text messaged Anand Jon I believe 58 times in the hours of the day after her alleged assault," said Mikulan.

In November 2008, the jury found Jon guilty of 14 felonies and two misdemeanors against seven of the nine women, including the forcible rape of Jessie, as well as multiple lewd acts and three felonies on other models. More than half the counts were dismissed, and he was acquitted on six counts. He's now serving a 59-year sentence in a California prison.

"It really validates for other rape victims that if they do come forward, that it is an excruciating process, but that it is a very worthwhile process," said Frances Young, deputy district attorney.

Jon never took the witness stand, but after the verdict, when he could not be cross-examined by the prosecutor or challenged by an interviewer, he made his own last-ditch plea for a new trial.

"I'm innocent of these allegations, of what they've accused me," he said. "I am not guilty."

Acting as his own attorney, Jon told the judge he never forced any of the women to have sex with him.

"I was busy designing hemlines. What, I'm gonna threaten them with a sewing needle?" he said.

He spoke non-stop for six hours, alternating between arrogance and anger and then breaking down in tears. Jon continues to maintain his innocence. He told "20/20" he could hardly wait to tell his side of the story, but on advice from counsel, he changed his mind about talking to us.

Jon is about to be extradited to stand trial on similar charges in New York State. He was also indicted in Texas.

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