Abercrombie & Fitch hit with lawsuit alleging former CEO ran sex-trafficking organization

Bob Haboldt, Daniel Romaldes, Annabel Seldorf, Store Architect, Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO and Guest (Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic for Paul Wilmot Communications)

A former model for Abercrombie & Fitch on Friday sued the fashion retailer, alleging it allowed its former CEO Mike Jeffries to run a sex-trafficking organization during his 22-year tenure.

Jeffries, who left Abercrombie in 2014, converted the chain from an struggling retailer of hunting apparel to a seller of must-have teen clothing. But he faced criticism for the company's sexualized marketing, including billboards and beefy models that alienated potential customers who didn't fit into its image.

The lawsuit comes after a BBC report earlier this month raised similar allegations against Jeffries and his partner Matthew Smith.

The lawsuit, filed by David Bradberry in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges Jeffries had modeling scouts scouring the internet and elsewhere to identify attractive young men seeking to be the next face of Abercrombie. Often these prospective models became sex-trafficking victims, sent to New York and abroad and abused by Jeffries and other men, all under the guise that they were being recruited to become the next Abercrombie model, the lawsuit contends.

"Jeffries was so important to the profitability of the brand that he was given complete autonomy to perform his role as CEO however he saw fit, including through the use of blatant international sex-trafficking and abuse of prospective Abercrombie models," the suit alleges.

The lawsuit names Jeffries, Smith, and the Jeffries Family Office LLC. It seeks class-action status and estimates that over a hundred young models, in addition to Bradberry, were victims.

A&F, based in New Albany, Ohio, declined to comment Friday. Earlier this month, the retailer said that it had hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the issues raised by the BBC. It said the company’s current leaders and board of directors were not aware of the allegations of Jeffries' sexual misconduct.

"For close to a decade, a new executive leadership team and refreshed board of directors have successfully transformed our brands and culture into the values-driven organization we are today," the company said. "We have zero tolerance for abuse, harassment or discrimination of any kind."

Jeffries' attorney, Brian Bieber, said in a statement that Jeffries "will not comment in the press on this new lawsuit, as he has likewise chosen not to regarding litigation in the past. "

"The courtroom is where we will deal with this matter," Bieber added.

The Jeffries Family Office didn't respond immediately for requests for comment.