They call him "the kid." And that kid, Cristiano Ronaldo, has a problem resulting from a vacation in Las Vegas, spent in a suite at the upscale hotel Palms Place.
It the summer of 2009, Ronaldo's lawyer Carlos Osório de Castro was emailing with a colleague, saying he had had an exchange with "the kid" pertaining to a night of partying in Las Vegas.
It was serious. An American, Kathryn Mayorga, was claiming that Ronaldo had raped her in his suite on June 13. After speaking with his client -- the international star who was the most expensive player on the planet -- Osório de Castro likely had a basic understanding of what could have happened that night in the hotel room.
He got to work.
Because the accusation had to disappear. Quickly. Quietly. Forever.
The attorney from Porto, Portugal, who has stood by Ronaldo's side more than once, rallied the troops. They were a cleaning crew of sorts, and it was their job to ensure that nothing about the incident in Las Vegas ever became public.
The team included a private detective with good contacts to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD), two other lawyers from Portugal and the London-based law firm Schillings, which specializes in crisis management. (Their motto: "Find the fix, control the crisis.")
An additional member of the team was the law firm Lavely & Singer from Los Angeles, which has made a name for itself helping celebrity clients like Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston -- people who are able to solve their problems with money.
Osório de Castro also tapped the lawyer Richard Wright from Las Vegas. His hourly fee: $475. Later, the team would also hire a medical expert and a forensic expert.
All of them were lined up against Kathryn Mayorga from Las Vegas, who earned her living through modeling and the occasional promotion job. And who, in June 2009, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
DER SPIEGEL reported last week about Mayorga's rape allegations against Ronaldo. It is the story of a woman who long stayed silent -- because she had to. Because nine years ago, she signed an agreement that had been hashed out by Ronaldo's team of experts and her own lawyer.
In the out-of-court settlement, Mayorga agreed never to speak publicly about what took place in Palms Place on June 13, 2009. In return for her signature, she received $375,000.
Mayorga has now decided to break her silence. Her lawyer, Leslie Mark Stovall, filed a formal complaint last week in Nevada. He's challenging the settlement, arguing that its only aim was to silence his client.
Stovall is also challenging Ronaldo's lawyers. He believes they pursued a non-disclosure agreement to "prevent or delay criminal prosecution" of the alleged assault. Stovall speaks of a targeted "conspiracy," arguing: "Hiding a crime is a crime."
The details of the case of Mayorga vs. Ronaldo sound like the plot of a John Grisham novel. The Client. The Firm. The Racketeer. There's some of everything: unrelenting lawyers, sleazy investigators, a complete lack of mercy. And an alleged victim who gets kicked around by the opposing side's legal team like a soccer ball on a pitch.
While Mayorga hired a lawyer in July 2009 who specialized in securing damages after auto accidents, Ronaldo's people operated like an international crisis management team.
DER SPIEGEL has been able to reconstruct the strategy and methods of Ronaldo's lawyers thanks to documents made available by the online whistleblowing platform Football Leaks.
The documents show that Ronaldo's lawyers in the United States sent a private investigator to Palms Place. He inspected the suite in which Ronaldo stayed during his vacation to Las Vegas, measuring the rooms and the Jacuzzi and testing the acoustics.
The lawyers decided they needed a code name for Ronaldo. They agreed to call him, "Topher."
The lawyers debated why the Las Vegas police hadn't yet deemed the incident a criminal case and passed it along to the district attorney. One lawyer noted that Kathryn Mayorga had contacted the police within a few hours of the incident in the Palms Place. In his opinion, he said, this fact spoke for Mayorga, increasing her credibility and the likelihood that the police weren't yet finished with their own investigations.
In August 2009, Ronaldo's lawyers negotiated with Mayorga's representative about the settlement. The soccer star's attorneys had agreed among themselves to speak of an alleged sexual harassment, not a possible rape.
The out-of-court settlement was to be crafted in such a way that Mayorga would face a high financial penalty if she violated her end of the bargain, such as through some indiscretion or interview with a journalist.
Jay Lavely, from the law firm Lavely & Singer, sought to placate his client. He's an experienced attorney, cool and precise. In all of his years as a settlement negotiator, he has never had any details of signed agreements leak out into the public sphere.
Ronaldo's team wanted to know everything about Mayorga, who was 25 at the time. They had her shadowed, with a private investigator noting when she left the house, whom she met, where she went to eat and how many glasses of red wine she had with dinner. The investigator even dug up the number of her marriage certificate. He learned that she had voted for the Democrats and that she had received a few parking tickets.
The private detective, a former Las Vegas cop, also tried to tap his old friends on the force for information and sought to meet a detective with the LVMPD to learn more about their investigation. In a debrief to Ronaldo's lawyers, he revealed that the LVMPD would not be opposed to the case being settled out-of-court. He said that, were that to happen, there would allegedly be no further investigations.
The lawyers then busied themselves with U.S. criminal law and the question of whether, in such cases, accused persons from Europe can be extradited to the U.S.
In September, Ronaldo's team came up with a comprehensive questionnaire. They wanted to hear Ronaldo's version of that night in Las Vegas. Every detail was important. The result was a document that could ultimately play a central role in the case.
One question that Ronaldo was given to answer read: "Describe in detail what happened starting with the first physical contact that you had with Ms. C in the other room and describe the sequence of events."
One of the lawyers from Ronaldo's team noted his answer:
"I fucked her from the side. She made herself available. She was lying on her side, in bed, and I entered her from behind. It was rude. We didn't change position. 5/7 minutes. She said that she didn't want to, but she made herself available. The whole time it was rude, I turned her onto her side, and it was fast. Maybe she got some bruises when I grabbed her ... She jerked me off ... But she kept saying 'No.' 'Don't do it.' 'I'm not like the others.' I apologized afterwards."
Question: "Did Ms. C ever raise her voice, scream, or yell?"
Answer: "She said no and stop several times."
According to documents from Football Leaks, this version of events changed. In December, another questionnaire with different answers surfaced. In this one, the answer to a question about what happened in the bedroom reads: "She was laying in the bed. I went from behind. We did not switch positions. It was 5/7 minutes. She didn't scream. She didn't call for help or anything like that."
Lawyers that represent top celebrities are very thorough, and they are expensive. This is something that Osório de Castro began to realize in October 2009 as he was confronted with steep bills.
In January 2010, a lawyer from Lavely & Singer got in touch with Osório de Castro. The attorney wanted to hire a forensic expert whose fee was 350 euros an hour. The person would evaluate Mayorgas' medical records and the examination report, in which the injuries of the alleged victim were recorded. A medical expert would be brought in as well -- for $2,500.
In March, Osório de Castro complained again in an email that Ronaldo, the "client," found the fees to be "excessive."
Meanwhile, the lawyers in the U.S. had submitted a document to the mediator, who would work as an intermediary between the parties, between Mayorga and Ronaldo, alias Topher.
A Medical Expert
The text cites a "medical expert" who stated the injuries in Mayorga's rectum may have been caused by "several objects" and not necessarily by "penetration of a penis."
There is also testimony from another expert, a former detective who had allegedly specialized in sexual assault investigations. The retired cop was quoted as saying that Mayorga could have caused the injuries herself. That would explain why it had taken her several hours after the alleged incident to call the police, he said.
The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 41/2018 (October 6th, 2018) of DER SPIEGEL.
Anyone accused of a crime has a right to the best-possible defense. But Mayorga's current lawyer Stovall believes that Ronaldo's lawyers went too far.
In Stovall's opinion, settlements -- back-room contracts with non-disclosure agreements -- are only appropriate in a limited number of situations. "If you have a case that involves, say, the formula for Coca-Cola or software for some application that's very valuable, within the context of those kinds of cases, confidentiality non-disclosures are in my opinion appropriate," says Stovall. In the last several years, though, he adds, such non-disclosure clauses have become more common: "And it's done for the purpose of hiding bad conduct of celebrities."
After the settlement was signed, Osório de Castro tried to negotiate a discount for his client. The response from the attorneys at Lavely & Singer was, as always, businesslike. We were able to secure a remarkable settlement for Topher, they wrote in an email. The client had found himself in a difficult situation, they continued -- he had faced extradition to the U.S., a prison sentence, in any case an enormous hit to his reputation if the Mayorga case had become public. The outstanding charges were to be paid as soon as possible.
When DER SPIEGEL first reported about Mayorga's case a year and a half ago without mentioning the alleged victim's name, the magazine received letters from two law firms specialized in media law. They hoped to be able to prevent the story from being published. A negotiator was also sent to Hamburg, where DER SPIEGEL is based, to learn more about the planned report -- a task at which he did not succeed. The man no longer works as part of Ronaldo's management team.
At the time, Ronaldo did not personally respond to the reports. Instead, he posted a photo of himself. It showed him in a victory pose, from behind, wearing only his underwear.
After DER SPIEGEL's story last week, the case of Mayorga vs. Ronaldo made headlines around the world. Ronaldo, who now plays for Juventus Turin, took to Instagram and spoke of "fake news" and said someone was merely trying to get famous at his expense.
On Wednesday, Ronaldo took to Twitter to defend himself: "I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me. Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in."
A New Investigation
What happened on June 13, 2009, in the suite at Palms Place? Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Kathryn Mayorga know the truth.
Now at least, Mayorga's story has landed where it should have been in the first place: in front of a proper court. At issue is the out-of-court settlement. In addition, a district attorney must also decide whether to initiate criminal proceedings against Ronaldo. Mayorga has been questioned by the police multiple times in recent weeks. Her last statement was recorded.
According to Mayorga's lawyer, Stovall, during one of her recent appointments with the police, she discovered that a recording of the statement she gave to police in 2009 no longer exists. The dress and the underwear that Mayorga was wearing on that night at Palms Place, and which she said she handed over to the police at the time as evidence, are likewise allegedly missing. When contacted by DER SPIEGEL, the Las Vegas police declined to comment.
Stovall is also critical of the police for not having taken any further recognizable steps in the investigation after Mayorga, as she claims, gave them the name of the potential perpetrator back in 2009. LVMPD disputes this.
Stovall has written the police a letter. In it, he has asked whether the authorities had reservations about the integrity of the investigation to date. And if so, what they plan to do about it.
Last Monday, three days after the DER SPIEGEL report came out, the LVMPD announced they were reopening their investigation into Mayorga's allegations.
By Rafael Buschmann, Andreas Meyhoff, Nicola Naber, Gerhard Pfeil, Antje Windmann, Christoph Winterbach and Michael Wulzinger