AnimeNEXT Staff Launch Investigation Into Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Former Con Chair
posted on by Lynzee Loveridge
Allegations of sexual misconduct against a former member of the board of Atlantic City's AnimeNEXT convention has led to an ongoing internal investigation. Former con staff member "Anne May" posted her story on Facebook on March 12 where she alleged the board member was "handsy," made inappropriate comments, and invited her back to his room in 2015. Anime News Network learned via former convention staff members that the allegations were levied against long-time AnimeNEXT staffer Eric Torgersen.
Anne May stated in her post that she and other women let staff know about the incidents in 2015. Anne, who was under the age of 21 in 2015, told Anime News Network that Torgerson invited her to his room for drinks at night and made various sexual comments to her over the course of the convention weekend.
"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," Anne May told Anime News Network. Torgersen was married in 2015.
The allegations by Anne May and other women were shared with AnimeNEXT's head of HR and board of directors member at the time, Carlo Darcelin. Darcelin had been involved with the convention in some capacity since its inception but would leave following con's 2015 show. Darcelin said that 2015 was the first time he'd heard allegations against Torgerson.
"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," Darcelin said.
He described the complaints 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. The women involved were predominately Asian.
"I was told he would often try to get them alone or to room with him at the con or con-related events," Darcelin said. He estimated that he heard directly or was relayed accounts involving a dozen women.
In a strange turn of events, Darcelin would never get the opportunity to recount the stories to the board of directors. He reported the situation to "the corporate chair" during the convention weekend and an emergency meeting was held. All Board of Directors members were asked to attend with the exception of Torgersen. It was decided during the meeting to hold an additional meeting with Torgersen present after the convention wrapped. Torgersen was not removed from his convention responsibilities at the time but was issued a warning to "watch his conduct," according to Darcelin.
The follow-up meeting was meant to focus on the allegations but it was scheduled for a day that Darcelin could not attend. He informed the chair of the board that he could not attend that day but the meeting went forward without him.
Note: Darcelin did not identify the board members he spoke with by name. According to the AnimeNEXT programming guide from 2014, Dominick Santoriello was chairman of the board of directors. A "corporate chair" position is not listed.
"I was the only BOD member at the time that knew the complainants but I wasn't there to represent them at that meeting," Darcelin said.
Staff members that were present at the vote stated that the allegations relayed to them by the President of the Board Robert Rustay were misrepresented as less serious.
"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," former staff member "B" told ANN.
"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," they said.
Torgersen would remain on the board of directors and a vote held at the meeting would make him convention chair for AnimeNEXT. Torgersen continued as convention chair for two years following the vote. Darcelin chose to retire from the convention following the 2015 vote.
"B" alleges that Torgersen's behavior didn't stop after 2015 and that he "continued approaching staff members though more quietly" until at least 2017.
Multiple former convention sources described sexually-charged behavior involving Torgersen. Former staff member "C" said, "I always knew that Eric had a ‘thing’ for young Asian girls, it's not a big secret in the staff circle. But I ignored it until it became an unwarranted attention thing."
Multiple sources described Torgersen's relationship with two women that they claim received preferential treatment. Sources described a BDSM-like relationship that bled into work situations.
"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, " "B" said. The staffer claimed situations involving the two women at convention parties directly led to damaged relationships with music guests. Multiple sources stated that the women's involvement with AnimeNEXT led to an increased workload and stress on other staff members.
"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," former staff member "A" told ANN. "A" confronted Torgersen about the special treatment leading up to AnimeNEXT 2014 when she says financial mismanagement had left her staff without proper hotel accommodations.
"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," "A" said. She reported the situation to convention vice chair Sarah Moulder.
"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," "A" said.
"A" cited Torgersen's friendships with fellow board members for his continued involvement with the con despite the allegations.
"The entire board would validate his behavior or simply look the other way because they enjoyed their position of power and didn't want to ruin it," "A" said.
Anime News Network contacted Keenan Slobodzian, AnimeNEXT's current chairman of the board of directors, on April 2 regarding Anne May's Facebook post and was informed that an internal investigation into the allegations is ongoing. That investigation was still underway as of May 6. Slobodzian clarified that Torgersen is no longer a member of the convention's board of directors but declined to state whether he is currently on staff for AnimeNEXT 2019.
A chart shared with Anime News Network via a former AnimeNEXT convention staffer shows Torgersen as this year's Director of Exhibitions. The DoE would oversee Artist Alley and the Exhibition Hall. The staffer stated they were not sure if the chart is currently up to date.
AnimeNEXT 2019 is scheduled for the June 7-9 weekend at the Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey.
Sources: E-mail correspondence
2019-05-23: This article has been updated to reflect new information.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history