ROME (NYTimes) - Earlier this month, after allegations surfaced of systematic sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein, the once all-powerful movie producer sent a message to his old friend and employee Fabrizio Lombardo.
It asked simply, "How are you?" Lombardo, 58, sitting for an interview in a luxurious hotel lobby last week, said he still had not been able to bring himself to respond. But the answer was clearly not good.
The two men were once close. Lombardo worked for Weinstein as the head of Miramax Italy. He helped save Weinstein's life after the movie mogul fell dangerously ill on the island of St. Barts, and Weinstein served as the best man at Lombardo's wedding in 2003.
Now, the fallout from Weinstein's catastrophic decline has engulfed him, too. Lombardo has become the object of scornful media coverage amid allegations by a well-known Italian actress and by a former model that he knowingly led them into private meetings in which Weinstein sexually harassed them nearly 20 years ago.
Lombardo vehemently denies those accusations as well as the accounts of former Miramax executives that he was employed in part to help satisfy Weinstein's voracious appetite.
"That's absolutely not true. I completely deny it. It's false," Lombardo said in another interview in his lawyer's office in Rome, a city where he said he had done great work bringing movies and a lot of money to Miramax.
He said he was "shocked" by the allegations against Weinstein, though he reserved judgment on the validity of the accusations.
"This is something that nobody knows, except the people in the place where it happened," he said. "A man wouldn't tell this story. So how do I know? You see what I mean? I don't think anybody knows except the people in the room."
At the height of Weinstein's power, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, unease about Lombardo's role in the company was so great that Weinstein attempted to allay concerns, according to Elizabeth Dreyer, a senior executive who was in charge of international acquisitions at the time.
But Dreyer said Weinstein's denial to his senior international staff at a meeting she attended did not entirely dispel suspicions inside the company.
Years earlier, Dreyer had worked in Miramax's New York office and was responsible for reserving hotel rooms for the Cannes Film Festival. She recalled requesting a room at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc for Lombardo, and being told that he was barred because the owner said he "brings too many girls". "That was kind of an 'ah-ha' moment for me," she said, recalling thinking, "I get what Fabrizio is about now. I get the relationship."
Lombardo said neither he nor Weinstein was ever barred from the hotel. (The hotel manager at the time would not comment.) Lombardo attributed the criticisms to people within the company who were "envious" of his relationship with Weinstein.
"They have to find a reason for their failure" he said, adding that it was not his fault what took place behind closed hotel room doors. "You can't hold responsible the person who from the lobby shows the room."
In Italy, where a transactional approach to sex in show business and politics is often shrugged at, the accounts of some of Weinstein's accusers have prompted indifference, or even blame toward the women. But some of the women are eager to take Weinstein, and his alleged facilitators, to task.
One of Weinstein's accusers, Asia Argento, an Italian actress, received what she considered threatening messages on her telephone from Lombardo, whom she said she hadn't heard from in years.
"I'm scared to death," she told a reporter by phone the morning after receiving the image on Oct 3 of an anonymous couple passed out on a bed with the words, "Have You Ever Been This Drunk." "Why is he sending me this?" she said.
Lombardo acknowledged he had sent what he called the "funny videos", but argued he sent them to her - on two separate days - as part of a mass forwarding by "mistake".
He expressed regret that Argento felt threatened and he conceded that "the timing was terrible".
Argento subsequently went public in The New Yorker with her account of sexual harassment by Weinstein, and she has since named Lombardo as the person who brought her to Weinstein's room in 1997 under the false pretense of attending a party.
Another woman, Zoe Brock, has accused Lombardo of accompanying her into Weinstein's Cannes hotel room in 1998 under the pretense that friends would soon be joining them to continue a party.
Brock, a former model, said in a phone interview that Lombardo had excused himself to leave her alone with Weinstein, who, behind closed doors, stripped naked and chased her around the room.
"It was a total set up. He knew," Brock said, referring to Lombardo.
Lombardo denied both of those accounts. Weinstein's spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister, said Weinstein denied all the allegations against Lombardo.
"As the executive in charge of Rome and parts of Europe, Mr. Lombardo made contributions that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for the company," she said, going on to list many lucrative movies and adding that he "was helpful in making connections because of his network."
In 1999, despite the objections of some Miramax executives in New York, Weinstein asked Lombardo to lead Miramax Italy.
Dreyer oversaw Miramax's Italy operations from an office in to London. She said she received a call from her superiors urging her to use Lombardo in everything she did.
"I thought this was a way to legitimise his involvement in the company," she said, adding that his responsibilities amounted to setting up meetings and translating. He was thanked in the credits of the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. In Rome, film insiders called him "The Talented Mr. Lombardo".
Lombardo, who often accompanied Weinstein during the Rome filming of Gangs Of New York, argued that he played a crucial role in the company and that hiring him "was a good idea".