Ben Bergstein Charged With Sexual Assault Following February Incident | Off Message

Ben Bergstein Charged With Sexual Assault Following February Incident

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Ben Bergstein - OLIVER PARINI
  • Oliver Parini
  • Ben Bergstein
Ben Bergstein, the disgraced founder of North End Studios, has been charged with sexually assaulting a much younger woman earlier this year.

The alleged assault took place February 27 at Bergstein's Burlington home —a few weeks after the City of Winooski had already threatened to evict Bergstein's nonprofit from city property over similar allegations.

The woman came forward to Burlington police in April, shortly after VTDigger.org published an investigation detailing numerous other women's accounts of predatory behavior by Bergstein.



Bergstein, 77, is accused of groping and using his fingers to penetrate a family friend while she was unconscious in his living room, according to court documents filed in Vermont Superior Court on Wednesday. The woman, who is in her 20s, told police she woke up while Bergstein was still penetrating her.

He pleaded not guilty during an arraignment on the felony charge Wednesday and was released on conditions. In an interview with investigators that is described in court records, Bergstein did not deny his actions but said he thought the woman was enjoying it because she didn't move away.

"I was just trying to do something to make her feel better," he told police.

Bergstein and his wife had long known the woman. The three had arranged for an evening of caviar and drinks at Bergstein's home. His younger guest had planned to stay the night and eat brunch at the home the next morning.

After Bergstein's wife went to bed, Bergstein and the woman continued to talk, and at some point he offered her a massage, according to the affidavit.

The woman later told police she "recalled that Ben said something like, 'well you look tense, why don't I give you a massage?'"

She sat down on a living room couch for what she believed would be a shoulder rub, then either fell asleep or blacked out. When she regained consciousness, she was laying across his lap and partially unclothed.

"When I woke up his fingers were inside of me, and he then proceeded to lift up my shirt," she told a detective from the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations. "I was kind of in shock and he's a lot bigger than me, so I slowly pretended to rouse, and he righted my clothes as ... right before I opened my eyes."

She asked Bergstein for another drink to put space between them, according to her account. They went into the kitchen, and Bergstein asked, "Was it good for you?"

Feeling "deeply uncomfortable," the woman went outside and called her boss for a ride home. An investigator later spoke to the person who took the woman home. He remembered asking her what was wrong, to which she replied, "I don't know what the fuck is going on with that guy," and "How could he do that?"

She returned to Bergstein's home the following morning to pick up her car but did not interact with him or his wife. Around 10 a.m., Bergstein texted the woman, according to a transcript in the affidavit.

"I assume since your car is gone that you don't want waffles this morning?" he wrote. She didn't reply.



In his interview with investigators in June, Bergstein claimed the woman was "the aggressor" and had seemed "very needy."

He told the investigators that she "seemed to like" his sexual contact. Asked what she was doing to indicate that, Bergstein said "she was just really calm." Bergstein confirmed that she had not touched him in any way during the encounter, a detective wrote.

Bergstein resigned from North End Studios, the organization he and his wife founded in 1978, in April, shortly before VTDigger.org published accounts of women who accused Bergstein of forcibly kissing, sexually harassing and groping them over the last decade.

In early February, before VTDigger.org's story ran, the City of Winooski had sent North End Studios a letter threatening to terminate the organization's lease in the O'Brien Community Center if it received any more reports of sexual misconduct by Bergstein, VTDigger.org later reported.

By May, once the accusations became public, multiple landlords terminated the nonprofit's leases, and its board announced plans to dissolve the organization.

The latest allegation against Bergstein is similar to a 2016 one reported by VTDigger.org that was investigated by CUSI but did not result in charges. In that case, a young woman who'd known Bergstein since childhood reported that on one occasion he'd stripped naked to give her a massage and on a later date had sexually penetrated her on a couch .

As his recent interview with investigators concluded, Bergstein apparently offered his take on the public accusations against him that had upended the nonprofit. The conduct that had been called out as inappropriate, he said, was "just totally normal behavior," the affidavit recounts.

"I'm not an aggressor," Bergstein continued. "When someone is friendly to me, I'm friendly to them. I just know a lot of this these days is considered bad behavior but it's confusing to me."

He said the news coverage about him had taken on a "life of its own."

"It did what those sort of cancel culture things do," Bergstein said, "which is they make up stuff and there's no recourse."

Editor's note: On August 20, 2021, certain details about the alleged victim, including her exact age, were stricken from this story for privacy concerns.