The Ashley Madison leak has exposed what the company was willing to do to keep a rogue employee silent.
In 2013, executives of Ashley Madison‘s parent company, Avid Life Media (ALM), discussed paying thousands of dollars to its former spokesperson to prevent a sexual-harassment scandal from going public, according to leaked emails.
More than 100,000 emails belonging to Noel Biderman, ALM’s chief executive officer, were released on Friday by hackers known only as Impact Team. Cybersecurity experts who investigated the files found the release to be authentic. Included in the cache were several emails from then-Ashley Madison spokesperson Louise Van der Velde, who bills herself as a sex expert under the title “Pleasure Professor.”
“The only way to avoid this going public and to a full court case is to make immediate and final settlement within 48 hours of £10,000 pounds to my account.”
Velde threatened to go public with an accusation of sexual harassment against an ALM executive unless the company agreed to pay her a fee of £10,000 ($15,686), a series of emails viewed by the Daily Dot reveal. In the emails, she promises to sell her story to the media and file a £20,000 lawsuit if her demands are not met.
Velde claims in multiple emails to have a photograph of David Benoliel, ALM’s vice president of operations, grabbing her butt at a party. “The only way to avoid this going public and to a full court case is to make immediate and final settlement within 48 hours of £10,000 pounds to my account,” she wrote. “I will then sign an agreement that we go our separate ways with no problems.”
The emails do not confirm whether ALM made the payment to Velde.
In an email to Biderman, Benoliel denied the allegations and warned that Velde had threatened his reputation and family. “She has no pictures, texts, emails or innuendo from me in any way,” he said: “I would go to bat on this one and call her bluff but really don’t trust her to be rational.”
In a separate email, Benoliel tells Biderman: “Balls to the wall approach on her end. It’s either play her bluff or pay.”
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In her emails, Velde communicated to Avi Weisman, ALM’s vice president and general counsel, that she was prepared to talk about her experience at Ashley Madison and “how they simply rip people off.” She eludes to “false data” and says that there are “really no women” on the website.
“I WILL get paid for a great story I think!” wrote Velde, who said she was tired of having her fees reduced and taking “trips that amount to nothing” on behalf of the company. “I have journos biting at the bit,” she wrote.
Often cited in the British press as a “self-titled sex expert,” Velde operates a well-known relationship therapy center in London. She’s also written and spoken publicly about her numerous affairs with wealthy married men. In a 2013 profile by the Daily Mail, Velde laid out her theories on adultery. When a man cheats, she said, it’s ultimately the woman who’s responsible if they’ve “let themselves go.”
On Sunday, Velde declined to comment or speak off the record regarding the allegations. Instead, she requested a contract for exclusive access to her story.
ALM did not respond to our requests for comment.
A multinational cybercrime investigation is currently underway at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police to uncover the identity of the Ashley Madison hackers. In addition to company emails, Impact Team leaked the personal details of more than 33 million user accounts.
ALM has offered a $380,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest of the hackers.
Jamie Woodruff contributed reporting to this article.
Photo via Ashley Madison | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III