Ricky Garcia of Forever In Your Mind is accusing his former manager of grooming him into a "sexual plaything" for his industry friends

By Rachel DeSantis
September 11, 2019 05:45 PM
Ricky Garcia
Vivien Killilea/Getty

A Disney channel actor and member of the boy band Forever In Your Mind has reportedly filed suit against his former manager and a host of others, claiming he was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted when he was as young as 12 years old.

Ricky Garcia, now 20, alleged that he was groomed to be a “sexual plaything” by ex-manager Joby Harte, who would then “pass [him] around” to his industry friends, according to documents obtained by PEOPLE and first reported by The Hollywood Reporter and TMZ.

The defendants have not yet had the opportunity to respond to the complaint in court, and PEOPLE has been unable to reach either Harte or Larson for comment.

In the suit, Garcia claims he was raped and sexually assaulted by Harte “dozens of times,” and that the executive would show him porn and ply him with alcohol, after which Garcia says he would wake up naked the next morning beside Harte.

Harte allegedly organized an overnight “songwriting session” for Garcia’s band in 2014 in which such a sequence of events happened, and Harte allegedly told the singer he undressed him and bathed him after Garcia vomited on himself while blacked out.

The documents allege that by the time he was 16 years old, Garcia was sexually assaulted by Harte on a near-weekly basis.

Garcia, who is being represented by Geragos & Geragos attorney Ben Meiselas and Michael Popok of Zumpano Patricios & Popok, also claims in the suit that on his 17th birthday, Harte entered his shower stall at a hotel and forced Garcia to masturbate him.

“Defendant Harte, the ringleader, employed the well-worn pedophile playbook of grooming and seduction,” Geragos & Geragos attorney Ben Meiselas writes in the complaint. “He targeted an economically and emotionally vulnerable pre-teen and his parents. He then groomed and seduced the child’s mother to have her lay down her defenses and give him unfettered access to her son, making her an unwitting accomplice to his depravity.”

In addition to Harte, the agency APA, former APA agent Tyler Grasham, manger-producer Nils Larsen, Harte’s company Hot Rock Media, Cohen/Thomas Management and its partners Sheri Andersen Thomas and Paul Cohen are all listed as defendants.

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Grasham, who was fired by APA in October 2017 amid unrelated sexual harassment and assault allegations, is accused of making sexually aggressive comments and licking Garcia’s toes in 2014.

Larsen, meanwhile, is accused of grabbing the young star’s penis over his pants at a 2016 concert.

Larsen denied Garcia’s allegation in a statement to PEOPLE from his attorney, Marty Singer.

“My client Nils Larsen categorically disputes the claim. He intends to sue the attorneys for malicious prosecution after he prevails in this action,” the statement read.

Garcia says he didn’t voice the accusations until March 2018 because he feared the repercussions, though he eventually told Harte’s former assistant, who then told his mother.

Harte allegedly dismissed the allegations as “horseplay” when confronted, but admitted he “did not behave like an adult,” according to the lawsuit.

One day after filing the suit in L.A. County Superior Court, Garcia issued a statement on Instagram calling it “one of the most difficult days” of his life.

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“It was through the support of my family, friends, all my supporters, and most of all God that I summoned the courage to speak out against the executives who sexually abused me as a child,” he wrote. “Sadly, I know my experience is just one of many and I hope my actions today will help others who experienced abuse to know that they are not alone and that there are people in this world fighting for them.”

Garcia’s attorneys said in a statement to PEOPLE that Harte’s alleged actions derailed his promising career.

“Our client, Ricky Garcia, was a preteen and teen music and acting star in the making. Tragically, and as alleged by him under oath in the complaint, high powered male entertainment industry executives, led by his former manager Joby Harte, who were responsible for nurturing his career, instead sexually preyed on his economic and emotional vulnerability, and sexually assaulted and raped him. In twisted fashion they inflicted injuries and shame on our client that have derailed his promising career and that will take him a lifetime to recover from,” the statement read.

“As set out in his Instagram message, Mr Garcia has bravely stepped forward to join the #metoo movement, to reclaim his dignity and declare that victims like him must be heard.”

Garcia initially appeared on The X Factor in 2013, and teamed up with two other musicians to form Forever In Your Mind after he was eliminated, at the advice of Simon Cowell.

He has also appeared in more than 30 episodes of the Disney Channel series Best Friends Whenever.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.

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