Richard Simmons is alleging that a former associate, Mauro Oliveira, had “blackmailed, extorted and stalked” him in a bombshell lawsuit filed Monday against the National Enquirer and their publishers.
The fitness guru, 68, who has not been seen publicly since February 2014, says Oliveira’s extortion led to his further retreat from the spotlight.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Oliveira — who was not named as a defendant in the suit — was selling false and libelous information about Simmons to the National Enquirer and Radar Online, both owned by American Media, Inc.
“Since early 2014, Mr. Simmons has taken a leave of absence from the media spotlight in order to retreat from his 40-year career in television, fitness and other arenas of entertainment. Starting from around May 2015, Mauro Oliveira, an individual who has blackmailed, extorted and stalked Mr. Simmons for several years with the intention of destroying the career and reputation of Mr. Simmons, contacted several press outlets, including the National Enquirer and Radar, and offered information on Mr. Simmons’s disappearance in exchange for a fee,” lawyers for Simmons allege in the court filing.
The suit claims that Oliveira contacted the Enquirer offering different reasons for why he had been absent from public life. Firstly, that he was “frail, weak and spiritually broken.” Secondly, that he was “being held hostage by his housekeeper who was controlling Mr. Simmons, taking advantage of his weak mental state and engaging in witchcraft.” Lastly, that he was transitioning to female.
The suit continues that the Enquirer and Radar “knew and acted in reckless disregard for the fact that the information provided by Mr. Oliveira was false and that he was not a credible or reliable source.”
Oliveira tells PEOPLE, “The allegations are false, and the real story about Richard Simmons will come out eventually. Any reference to monetary compensation is the money Richard Simmons owes Mr. Oliveira for his work done for him, and also for the help he promised me when I stopped working for him, and also for the health problems Richard Simmons caused Mr. Oliveira.”
A spokesperson at American Media, Inc., prior to seeing the lawsuit, told PEOPLE that they maintain the accuracy of their reporting.
“While we have not seen Mr. Simmons’ complaint, we stand by our reporting about him, all of which was based on solid sourcing and material evidence. Should he choose to proceed with his lawsuit, we will defend it vigorously, and we look forward to the public vindication of our reports.”
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the full lawsuit.
The lawsuit further details a conversation between Simmons and Oliveira on June 10, 2016, where Oliveira allegedly “recanted his fabricated story regarding Mr. Simmons’s gender transition” in an email.
“[Oliveira] then implicitly demanded money from Mr. Simmons within 10 days and stated that if Mr. Simmons paid him, he would be prepared to ‘go on record to discredit the story and defend Richard Simmons,’ ” the lawsuit states.
RELATED VIDEO: Richard Simmons Is Not Transitioning into a Woman, Says Rep: ‘He Deserves His Privacy’
The court filling includes articles published in the National Enquirer and Radar that claimed Simmons disappeared to undergo a gender reassignment surgery, and is now living as a woman.
The genesis of the stories, it continues “came from Oliveira an individual who has for years blackmailed Mr. Simmons and used threats of repetitional harm, in order to extort money from Mr. Simmons. Defendants were aware of Mr. Oliveira’s opportunistic behavior after receiving notices from Mr. Simmons’ representatives but continued to republish the defamatory sex change allegations without further investigation into Mr. Oliviera’s credibility or motive.”
Simmons’s longtime rep, Michael Catalano, previously told PEOPLE that Simmons is not transitioning.
“I said to him the other day, ‘There are people that think you are a very overweight, depressed woman.’ And he laughed. He just laughed,” Catalano said.
- Additional reporting by GABRIELLE OLYA