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Former Boston prosecutor turned advocate is charged with rape in Manhattan

Adam Foss, seated, at his arraignment in State Supreme Court in lower Manhattan on Tuesday.Jefferson Siegel/NYT

NEW YORK — Adam Foss, a former Boston prosecutor who became a criminal justice reform advocate and frequent speaker on mass incarceration, was charged by the Manhattan district attorney Tuesday with rape and sexual abuse.

Prosecutors say Foss, 42, raped a woman while she slept in a New York hotel room in October 2017. The incident occurred after the woman, who was 25 at the time, had fallen asleep after she had repeatedly said no to his advances, the prosecutors said in a statement.

After Foss pleaded not guilty in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday, his lawyer, Robert C. Gottlieb, said his client has known about the investigation for two years. Gottlieb said the case was “very disturbing” because of a “historic and stereotypical racial dynamic involving a Black man and a white woman.”

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Asked whether his client had a consensual sexual encounter with the woman on the night described by prosecutors, Gottlieb said: “Everything was consensual with her.”

Foss, who remains free on supervised release, became nationally known after leaving the Suffolk County district attorney's office in Boston in 2016. That year, he launched a nonprofit organization, Prosecutor Impact, which trained prosecutors in practices that he believed would result in lower incarceration rates. He spoke throughout the country and landed on lists like Fast Company’s most creative people and The Root’s 100 most influential Black Americans.

One of his TED Talks racked up nearly 3 million views.

However, allegations of misconduct against Foss are not new.

As reported by WBUR in Boston last year, the Suffolk County district attorney’s office investigated Foss, who worked in the juvenile division from 2008 to 2016, after accusations about his behavior surfaced online.

Goodwin Procter, an independent law firm hired by Rachael Rollins, then the Suffolk County district attorney, found that although Foss had “engaged in concerning conduct with at least two adult female office interns and students,” he had not broken laws or violated office policies.

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The firm’s lawyers said they interviewed 28 people and conducted targeted searches of electronic documents in the course of their investigation. They said Foss declined to be interviewed or respond to written questions during the investigation.

At the time, Foss denied any sexual misconduct, saying to WBUR, “I have seen recent social media posts alleging improper conduct in my past. I recognize that some of my callous and insensitive behavior has caused many people anguish, but I deny any allegations of nonconsensual sexual relations.”

The Boston investigation was propelled by a post on Medium in November 2020 titled “The Wolf and The Whisper Network.” In the post, Raegan Sealy, a New York City singer and writer, detailed a relationship fostered by texts and phone calls with Foss that lasted for about a month in 2017. The relationship, which began after they met at a speaking engagement, ended after she was sexually assaulted by him in a Manhattan hotel room, Sealy wrote.

“I began sharing my story with friends, and quickly realized that I had kicked a hornet’s nest: there was a dressmaker, a TED administrator, an artist, a famous actress, a lawyer, an intern, a volunteer, a Hollywood manager, a nonprofit CEO, the friend of a friend, the friend of a stranger … a witness in one of his cases,” Sealy wrote in the post. “Everywhere I went, I found a trail of humiliation and harm left by Adam.”

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Sealy’s detailed allegations closely aligned with the charges the Manhattan district attorney’s office levied against Foss. Neither the prosecutors nor Sealy’s lawyer confirmed that the charges stemmed from her experience. The Manhattan district attorney’s office doesn’t release the names of sexual assault victims as a matter of policy.

Kim West, a Boston attorney who represents Sealy, said her client had no comment Tuesday regarding the charges against Foss.

After the findings in Boston, West wrote to WBUR that she and Sealy were pleased that the investigation “revealed facts supporting what Raegan has always alleged: Adam Foss used his position as a prosecutor to engage in inappropriate behavior and take advantage of a power dynamic with young women who looked up to him as a mentor.”

The website for Foss’ Prosecutor Impact organization had disappeared Tuesday.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.