David Copperfield Accused of Drugging, Assaulting 17-Year-Old Model in 1988 (Exclusive)

“Always listen, and consider everything carefully,” Copperfield tweeted Wednesday. “But please, for everyone’s sake, don’t rush to judgment.”

David Copperfield, Accuser Brittney Lewis
Photo: "Look of the Year" 1988/ Elite Model Management

Brittney Lewis was a 17-year-old model with dreams of becoming the next Elle Macpherson when, she says, magician David Copperfield drugged and sexually assaulted her.

It happened in 1988, Lewis said, after she competed in a modeling contest in which Copperfield was a judge. The photos above are from a videotape of the event obtained by TheWrap.

TheWrap spoke to Lewis’ best friend from high school, husband, ex-husband, and grandmother — her primary caretaker at the time — all of whom said Lewis told them decades ago about her accusations against Copperfield. A chiropractor said Lewis told her about the accusations three years ago, and Lewis said she reported them to the FBI in 2007. She said she is not seeking money from the magician or others.

Copperfield’s lawyer, publicist, and manager did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. But on Wednesday, Copperfield issued a statement on Twitter expressing support for the #MeToo movement while saying that he has been falsely accused in the past, and is about to “weather another storm.”

“Always listen, and consider everything carefully,” he wrote. “But please, for everyone’s sake, don’t rush to judgment.”

Look of the Year

Lewis said she met Copperfield soon after arriving in Atami, Japan, site of the “Look of the Year” modeling contest held by Elite Model Management in September of 1988.

Copperfield, one of the judges, was a superstar of magic after a decade of spectacular tricks that included making the Statue of Liberty disappear and then reappear and levitating over the Grand Canyon. His high-flying life would eventually include a reported $4 billion in ticket sales and relationships with models Claudia Schiffer and Chloe Gosselin.

Lewis said that soon after the “Look of the Year” contest, when she returned home to Utah, Copperfield invited her to one of his upcoming shows in California.

Brittney Lewis
Brittney Lewis modeling for an Italian magazine in the late ’80s

Since Lewis was still a minor, Copperfield asked permission from her grandmother, Patricia Burton, Lewis and Burton told TheWrap.

Burton said she was apprehensive at first.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her,” Burton said. “I believed him. He was very charming.”

She said Copperfield promised that Lewis would be accompanied at all times and that she would be staying in a separate hotel room from his.

Lewis said she traveled to California. She believes the city was San Diego, but admits she isn’t certain after nearly three decades. TheWrap found newspaper reports of two Copperfield shows in San Diego in early December of 1988.

The trip started splendidly, she said: Copperfield, 32 at the time, took her shopping and introduced her to his team with great fanfare. She said she was flattered but made it clear she was not looking for anything romantic. When Copperfield tried to hold her hand at one point, she politely declined, telling him they were “just friends,” she said.

Burton said Lewis called her and said Copperfield used a pseudonym when checking them into the hotel: “Simon Templar,” a fictional character from the 1960s TV show “The Saint.

“She said it was so exciting and they treated her so nice,” Burton said. “He pushed everyone out of the way when he escorted her.”

After the show, Lewis said, Copperfield invited her to a bar. She said she had barely touched her drink when she noticed him pouring something into her glass.

“I asked, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘Oh, I’m just sharing,’” Lewis said.

Brittney Lewis - David Copperfield
Photo: Britney Lewis in December 2016

She said she took a few sips after that and blacked out. The rest is hazy. She said she remembers bits and pieces of that night, mostly flashes of herself being carried out to a cab, and him inside her hotel room wearing a black robe with shoulder pads. She said she remembers him on top of her, kissing her, and his breath smelling bad. She said her room was connected to his by a door.

“I remember my clothes being taken off,” she said. “He was kissing my face and then I remember him starting to go down on my body with his face, and then, as soon as he started going down, I just completely blacked out.”

The next morning, she said, she woke up feeling sick and nauseated. Copperfield came in through the connecting door shortly after, she said.

“He wanted to me know that nothing happened because I was underage,” she said. “He said: ‘I didn’t enter you.’”

“There was no fluid but he could have had a condom,” she added.

Even though she wasn’t due back home for a couple of days, she said Copperfield suggested it was “best” if she went back that day. Lewis said she was relieved.

Her grandmother said she knew immediately that “something was wrong” when she called to say she would be home early.

She said that before she left, Copperfield made her write a letter saying she was okay.

“My therapist later told me that he made me write a contract to keep me quiet,” she said.

Salt Lake City Tribune article on Brittney Lewis right before her trip to Japan, August 1988

She got a call from one of Copperfield’s assistants a few months later, she said, informing her that Copperfield was going to be in Utah for a performance and asking whether she’d like tickets to his show. She said she told the assistant she didn’t want to ever see Copperfield again.

‘Falsely Accused Publicly in the Past’

In 2007, former beauty queen Lacey Carroll accused Copperfield of sexually assaulting her after whisking her to his $50 million private island in the Bahamas.

The FBI investigated Copperfield for two years and even raided Copperfield’s Las Vegas warehouse. The case was eventually closed with no official explanation, and Carroll dropped a civil lawsuit against Copperfield.

Carroll was later charged with prostitution and making false sexual assault accusations against another man, in Washington state. In that case, she pleaded guilty to a charge of obstructing a police officer in 2010 and was ordered to pay a $953 fine, complete 30 hours of community service and attend an alcohol-awareness class.

After the investigation closed, Copperfield told Oprah Winfrey during an interview: “I was the victim.”

“To be falsely accused of something horrendous is devastating for yourself, your friends, your family, really bad,” he told Winfrey. “I’m working on forgiveness.”

Copperfield elaborated in his statement Wednesday, saying he had been “falsely accused publicly in the past”:

I’ve lived with years of news reports about me being accused of fabricated, heinous acts, with few telling the story of the accuser getting arrested, and my innocence. Knowing that false accusers can negatively impact the believability of others and are a true disservice to those who have been victims of sexual misconduct, I didn’t draw attention to it.

Lewis said she contacted the FBI soon after seeing reports of the investigation around 2007 in the hopes that her story could help other women. She said an agent took her statement for more than an hour.

A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment. Lewis and TheWrap filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for a copy of Lewis’ statement, but has not heard back.

‘Panic Attack’

TheWrap also talked to a chiropractor who treated Lewis, Dr. Kaisa Coppola. Coppola, who spoke to TheWrap at Lewis’ request, said she began treating Lewis in June of 2014 for lower back pain and digestive issues, but said it soon became evident that Lewis’ medical issues were “absolutely related” to her encounter with Copperfield.

“As a doctor I can tell you that pain has created ripples of health effects,” Coppola said. “When you are taken advantage of at such a young age, it’s going to produce a hormonal reaction that is then going to have continued effects. it’s going to create a trauma reaction which will then trigger Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“Even talking about it the other day, she had a full-blown panic attack,” Coppola told TheWrap.

Statute of Limitations

Lewis said she has no plans to pursue a criminal or civil suit against Copperfield, but even if she wanted to the statute of limitations would prevent her, said a legal expert.

Steve Cron, a Santa Monica criminal defense attorney and law professor at Pepperdine University who is not involved with the situation, told TheWrap: “In cases where a minor was assaulted sexually, the statute of limitations extends to one year from the moment it was first reported.”

He said Lewis’ year to report began when she spoke to the FBI in 2007.

TheWrap reached out to Copperfield’s attorney, manager, and publicist on Tuesday with detailed questions about Lewis’ account, and has yet to hear any response. But Wednesday afternoon, Copperfield tweeted the following: