Recent allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against former AnimeNEXT convention chairman Eric Torgersen have prompted AnimeNEXT to launch an internal investigation of the founder and former board member.
According to an Anime News Network (ANN) report, the first allegation was brought to light on March 12th in a public post to the Anime NEXT Facebook page. The staff member, posting under the pseudonym ‘Anne May’, was inspired by the “uproar” surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct against Vic Mignogna to step forward and share her story. In the post, May detailed how Torgersen was “very handsy, would make inappropriate comments and even invited [her] back to his room”:
“I have noticed the big uproar with Vic and how people have step up and came out about things that have happened. It inspired me to share my story. At this point to I am afraid to reveal my name but still I want to tell my story. I was a staffer at animenext and the conchair at the time was highly inappropriate. He was very handsy, would make inappropriate comments and even invited me back to his room. He was twice my age. It had happen [sp] many times but I ignored it because I didn’t think that there was anything I could do about it. I then found out that it had happened to another girl and she told someone on staff. I guess the guy was on the board of directors or something. I didn’t even know that the con chair answered to someone. I told him my story as well and it seem [sp] like the other came forth to that person. The conchair at the time seem [sp] to have a type. I was even told by one of the other girls that made a complaint, that the conchair liked young Asian girls the most and I think she told me that he had a wife his own age that was Asian too and a child with her but yet he was trying to get me to go to his room in the middle of the night. The person I complained to told me that he took it very seriously and he would look into it and bring it to the board if it seem [sp] necessary. I don’t know if that guy brought to the rest of the board. The conchair did no do anything inappropriate to me at least for the rest of the weekends but I did have some inappropriate encounters after that weekend. So I would have to make sure that I was no where [sp] near him or not in the same room as him. I heard that the guy I complained to was voted of the board right after the con and I never saw him at the con again. I also found out that, the con chair was on the board of directors. He was reelected to the board of directors and reelected conchair even after the complaints. He also still is on th [sp] board till this day. So I never said anything again about the matter. I know I was not the only one this happen to and I finally found my voice. I would hope that some of the other girls will find there [sp[ voice and speak up as well. Thank you.”
Anne May would also tell ANN:
“I never feared for my safety but I think I would if I ever ended up in his room. Which he invited up to at inappropriate hours for a drink. I was not of drinking age but I was over 18,”
May’s complaints and those of other women were shared with AnimeNEXT’s head of HR and then-member of the board of directors Carlo Darcelin, who stated that he first heard of the allegations against Torgerson in 2015:
“It all started with one complaint that I was told while I was working the green room. A girl mentioned that she was having a problem with Eric but put in a joking manner. At first it didn’t sound like she was serious but then I got the feeling that it was true. So I asked her directly. She said ‘it is true and has been going on since the previous year.’ She thought because he is the con chair that there was no one that she could complain to. I let her know that I am on the BOD [board of directors] and that Eric answers to the BOD. So I urged her to tell me everything that happened and I would bring it up to the board. It just happen that another staffer heard us talking and said that Eric had done the same to her. Then, as if I opened a flood gate, many women came to me with their stories or stories of Eric doing this to other people,”
According to Darcelin and ANN, the complaints concerned such as “inappropriate speech, unwanted touching, inviting women under the age of 21 to drink in his room at night, or generally making women feel uncomfortable.” When Darcelin learned of the allegations, he reported the situation to the “corporate chair” which prompted the board of directors to issue an open invitation to board members to attend an all-hands meeting, though Torgersen himself was not invited (ANN noted no corporate chair position was listed in the 2014 AnimeNEXT programming guide). The board would then decide to meet with Torgersen after that years convention, and Torgersen was issued a warning to “watch his conduct” while remaining responsible for his duties relating to the convention. Torgersen was then voted to the position of convention chair and would remain in that position for two years.
However, Darcelin notes that “[he] was the only BOD member at the time that knew the complainants but [he] wasn’t there to represent them at that meeting.” It is alleged that President of the Board Robert Rustay downplayed the seriousness of the allegations. According to an unnamed former AnimeNEXT staff member:
“What we were told is that one staff member reported that Eric was chatting with them and asked if they drank and then invited them to his room for drinks. The request made them uncomfortable so they reported it to another member of Corporate HR Carlo Darclin. In actuality it was a number of staff members who were approached in a similar fashion.
From my understanding, the decision had been made by the President [Rustay] and Chairman of the Board, who also happened to be Eric’s best friend, to move on from the matter.”
The unnamed staffer also stated that Torgersen “continued approaching staff members though more quietly” following the 2015 incidents.
Staffers would also describe a personal relationship between Torgersen and two unnamed Asian women, claiming that Torgersen would confer preferential treatment upon the two women, which led to issues with his professional engagements:
“He would show off scratches on his forearms they gave him like they were badges of honor. They were also quickly put into staff positions giving them access to guests and anytime they were out of line he would handle it himself.
Their relationship can be described as a dom and sub type nature where he would do their bidding, which included bringing on guests that they wanted to see at the con, taking them on trips to conventions (which he paid for), horseback riding, dinner in NYC, etc etc.”
When one staff member confronted Torgersen regarding this preferential treatment, which had led to the staff member being rendered without hotel accommodations for AnimeNEXT, Torgersen allegedly threatened the staff member:
“He told me to ‘mind my own business or I would be sorry.’ It was clearly a threat that he would assault me, and as he is a large white man and I am a woman of color it made me feel unsafe and I avoided speaking to him or seeing him at the con at any point out of fear for my safety,”
When this staff member attempted to report the situation to the convention vice chair, Sarah Moulder, the staff member’s concerns were met with a dismissive attitude:
“None of the board believed her [Moulder] either, and they especially didn’t believe me when I told them Eric threatened me. They acted like I deserved it. Because my department ‘went over our allotted budget,’ which I had never seen or heard of because the board had never shown it to me or discussed it with me.”
According to the report, ANN reached out to current AnimeNEXT chairman of the board of directors, Keenan Slobodzian, who informed ANN that they were aware of the situation and were conducting an internal investigation, which ANN stated “was still underway as of May 6.” Slobodzian did confirm that Torgersen is no longer a member of the board of directors, but did not discuss whether Torgersen was a currently employed staff member for the upcoming AnimeNEXT 2019.
As of writing, Torgersen has not publicly commented on the allegations against him, nor has any evidence of his conduct been publicly presented to corroborate the allegations and statements by staff members.
AnimeNEXT 2019 will be held on June 7-9 at the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey.