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Kevin Hart’s extortion scandal: What you need to know

By: Nick Vadala, philly.com

September 20, 2017

Kevin Hart is making headlines once again this month, but this time, it’s for something a little less flattering than a charitable contribution for Hurricane Harvey victims or a mural in North Philly.

Instead, the Philadelphia-born comedian now finds himself embroiled in an alleged extortion scandal stemming from a wild August weekend in Las Vegas that may have resulted in Hart cheating on his pregnant wife, model Eniko Parrish, with another woman. Celebrity gossip site TMZ has since identified that woman as Montia Sabbag, 27.

The story is a little complicated, but here is what you need to know:

So what happened?

Hart, 38, himself broke the news over the weekend with a somewhat mysterious Instagram post in which he apologized to his wife and children, saying that he had “made a bad error in judgement and put myself in an environment where only bad things can happen, and they did.” The comedian also added that someone was attempting to get some “financial gain” from his “mistake,” which he “was not going to allow.”

“In this particular situation, that’s what was attempted, and I’d rather fess up to my mistakes,” Hart said.

A representative of Hart’s confirmed the comedian’s claims, telling People in a statement that “someone tried to set Kevin up in a failed extortion attempt.” According to TMZ, the alleged extortionist asked for millions of dollars in exchange for keeping a sex tape secret.

In Philadelphia attorney Michael Diamondstein’s estimation, that was a smart move on Hart’s part. After all, the recording in question is likely a digital file, which offers little assurance that it would cease to be a problem after making payment because of how easily it could be duplicated.

“I’d be very hesitant to advise a client to pay any sums to make a potential blackmailer go away,” Diamondstein says. “Paying someone $100,000 today makes it $1 million next week, and $5 million the week after that.

Why are they going after Hart?

It’s unclear what exactly caused the alleged extortion, but as TMZ reports, the apparent extorter wants to “expose” Hart as a “liar and cheater” and make some money. The gossip site has since posted a text intro from the apparent sex tape in which the person extorting Hart explains their motivation.

“Kevin Hart was privy to me wanting to expose him as I have made countless attempts to expose this information to various blogs, in an attempt to also get paid,” the video reads. “The real reason Kevin Hart orchestrated the Texas Hurricane Relief Fund, this so-called good deed was done to get ahead as he knew this damaging footage was one click away from being exposed as the liar and cheater he is.” Hart also recently announced he was sending 10 Philly kids to college.

The video, which runs just under five minutes, then reportedly goes on to show people who appear to be Hart and Sabbag engaging in “sexually provocative” activity off-camera.

How are the FBI involved?

Now, TMZ reports that the FBI is on the case, though representatives have issued statements indicating they could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. Hart’s representative, however, told People that “as law enforcement is involved, we cannot comment further as it could affect the investigation.”

Sabbag, meanwhile, has lawyered up with high-profile attorney Lisa Bloom, who has represented clients including Kathy Griffin and Mischa Barton. Sabbag has since denied that she took part in extorting Hart. Currently, TMZ reports that the alleged extortion was likely the work of more than one person.

Additionally, if those alleged extortionists used the phone or mail system to communicate with Hart about the plot, they could face wire fraud charges, as Diamondstein says. That crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

“In the federal courts, it’s illegal to use phones or the mail to commit an illegal act,” Diamondstein says. “If they’re trying to extort someone using the phones, they could potentially be charged with wire fraud.

Who is Montia Sabbag?

As TMZ reports, Sabbag, is a “traveling stripper” based out of Long Beach, Calif., who met with Hart in Las Vegas last month. The alleged extortion video reportedly shows Sabbag cozying up with Hart at a Vegas club before cutting to a shot of a bedroom where a couple engages in a “sexually provocative” act off-camera. While it is not clear who the video depicts, reports indicate the pair look like Sabbag and Hart.

Sabbag and Bloom held a news conference on Wednesday to address the situation. Sabbag claimed that she is “not an extortionist” and “had nothing to do with these recordings.” Rather, Sabbag indicated that, like Hart, she is a victim.

Bloom added that Sabbag had not yet been contacted by law enforcement, and that the two would be going to police about the ordeal. The attorney also confirmed that her client had had “an intimate relationship” with Hart last month, and denied earlier reports that Sabbag had demanded $420,000 in exchange for taking a lie-detector test.

What is extortion anyway?

“Essentially, extortion is when you take something that you don’t necessarily have a right to, and then threaten somebody to either cause to them harm or divulge secrets,” Diamondstein says. Here, it comes down to the origin of the apparent sex tape allegedly being used to extort Hart, though every state does have its own take on extortion laws.

As Diamondstein puts it, in Pennsylvania, if a person has another person’s consent to make a sex tape, that person is able to do what they choose with it. However, if the recording is not obtained through legal means, and it is being used to threaten someone, it is likely extortion. Both Hart and Sabbag have said that the recording was made without their consent.

“You can’t threaten to expose somebody with something you’re not supposed to have,” Diamondstein says.

Past infidelities

Hart has a history with infidelity going back to his first wife, Torrei Hart, who weighed in on the cheating scandal in an interview with Inside Edition on Monday. As Torrei told the program, Hart’s “lies and infidelity” resulted in the couple’s divorce.

It appears that some of that infidelity is connected to Parrish, who began dating Hart while he was still married to Torrei. Last month, the model posted a message commemorating the couple’s one-year wedding anniversary, writing that she and Hart had been together for eight years, meaning they began dating in 2009. Torrei and Hart’s divorce, however, was not finalized until 2011.

Torrei later told TMZ that “dates don’t lie at the end of the day,” with Parrish shooting back that Hart and his ex-wife’s relationship “was broken way before I came in the picture.”

Additionally, Hart has addressed his cheating in his stand-up, particularly in 2013’s Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain.

“Yes, people, I cheated. Am I ashamed of it? No, I’m not,” Hart said. “Do I wish I could take it back? No, no I don’t. Let me tell you why. You can’t evolve as a man if you never make a mistake. The only way that you can be perfect is to not f- up. I did it, I f- up. Don’t cheat.”

Other cheating rumors

Earlier this summer, rumors of a separate cheating scandal began to surface after Hart was spotted hanging out with a woman in a car outside a Miami nightclub. That woman, Monique “Momo” Gonzalez, has since denied that she is the woman featured in the sex tape allegedly being used to extort Hart.

Hart addressed those rumors with humor, posting a photo of himself to Instagram that depicted the comedian laughing. The comedian captioned the photo with “At the end of the day you just gotta laugh at the BS.”

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