The image was described, but not shown, in The New York Times’ Sunday report detailing the shocking claim against Argento, a major figure in the Me Too movement against sexual misconduct. Bennett says the actress had sex with him five years ago in a California hotel room when he was 17 and she was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.
The photo purportedly shows Argento and Bennett lying in bed shirtless with their foreheads pressed together. TMZ on Wednesday published a cropped version of the photo sans nudity; in the full version Argento’s arm is apparently draped across Bennett’s.
TMZ also obtained a series of text messages allegedly sent between Argento and an unidentified friend discussing the encounter in a conversation that apparently took place after the Times published its report.
“The horny kid jumped me,” reads one message that TMZ described as being written by Argento. HuffPost was not able to verify the authenticity of the photo or texts.
According to legal documents obtained by the Times, Bennett contacted Argento after she came forward last October to publicly accuse now-former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Argento agreed to quietly settle the matter for $380,000, according to the Times report. The actress claimed that her late boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, handled the payment.
In a statement, Argento stated: “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”
One text message reportedly sent by the actress directly contradicts that claim.
“I had sex with him it felt weird. I didn’t know he was a minor until the shakedown letter,” it says.
In the ensuing conversation, the party described as Argento suggests she did not initiate the encounter and felt uncomfortable with it, even though she had a sexual relationship with a 33-year-old man when she was 17. The discussion also references “Carrie,” presumably Argento’s lawyer Carrie Goldberg, who according to the texts wanted to expose the “extortion” in the media.
The pair describe a photo similar to the one TMZ published, but in which Bennett is standing, and suggest other photos once existed.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Monday that it was investigating the possible assault.
Argento’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.