Sunday 20 January 2019

Irish Vogue girl vows to fight Grace's grand larceny claim

Irish staffer at fashion glossy facing legal 'nightmare' - but her attorney insists her name will be cleared, says Niamh Horan

Fashion legend Grace Coddington
Fashion legend Grace Coddington
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Family and friends - as well as friends in the fashion world - are said to be standing by a young Dublin-born woman who has been accused of stealing more than $50,000 from her creative director boss at Vogue magazine.

In 2016, Yvonne Bannigan, now 25, landed her dream job as a fashion assistant at the American publication.

For two years she was employed as an assistant to US Vogue creative director-at-large Grace Coddington in New York but was arrested in April of this year.

Bannigan is reported to have been charged with second and third degree grand larceny, although her attorney Michael Cornacchia has said his client has not yet been charged.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Mr Cornacchia said: "Right now the prosecutors are investigating the facts and weighing whether they will present a case to the grand jury to consider whether an indictment is founded.

"Yvonne has not been formally charged with a crime, although the media incorrectly reports it as such."

Dublin-born Yvonne Bannigan
Dublin-born Yvonne Bannigan

"Yvonne is understandably concerned and a bit frightened since if she is indicted she is facing a possible jail sentence.

"She is also puzzled by Grace Coddington preferring these charges since Yvonne assisted her for two years and nursed her through two surgeries and a stroke.

"Never, ever during these two years did Coddington, who checked her credit card statements and kept track of her possessions, complain to Yvonne or anyone else about Yvonne's conduct or any misuse of credit cards or misappropriation of any of her property.

"In fact, Yvonne was the one who suggested that Coddington go to the police to report the questioned charges and Coddington went to the police the next day with Yvonne's encouragement.

"We have documentary proof of this and have submitted it to the prosecutors. We argued that Yvonne's recommendation to take the issue to the police was not the behaviour of someone who had committed wrongdoing. It was the conduct of someone who had nothing to hide.

"Yvonne is not disheartened but ever more determined to fight these false charges with the support of her family and her legal defense team."

On those supporting Bannigan, he said: "You should know that those persons inside and outside the fashion industry who know Yvonne have expressed support for her in this difficult time and expressed their belief in her innocence.

"Yvonne is fortunate to have a wonderful family who has provided their full support. They have never wavered in their belief in her innocence. As her attorney, I am equally convinced of Yvonne's innocence and will work 24/7 to demonstrate that there has been a serious misunderstanding here and ensure that this nightmare ends favourably for her so that she can go on with her life and career."

Speaking about what will happen in the event that prosecutors present the case to the grand jury and Bannigan is indicted - formally charged - Cornacchia said: "Yvonne intends to plead not guilty and vigorously fight the charges at a trial before a jury of 12 persons."

"This case is what we called 'complainant-driven' - that is, it was originated by Grace Coddington not the police or prosecutors and is based on Miss Coddington's word. Thus, her past behaviour, conduct, mental and physical status and credibility is at issue and we have requested that the prosecutors closely examine this issue as we are attempting to do so."

He continued: "If this case goes to a trial, Miss Coddington will have to testify in open court before a jury under oath and be subject to my vigorous cross-examination."

The young assistant is accused of making $53,564 of unauthorised purchases on Coddington's credit card.

In addition to this, Bannigan is alleged to have sold some of Coddington's property on an online consignment store called TheRealReal. She is also accused of keeping $9,000 in commission for herself.

According to her LinkedIn page, Bannigan had worked for the 77-year-old Vogue legend since February 2016. She was a freelance assistant at Vogue for a year before that.

Bannigan also held intern roles at Elle magazine and Zac Posen prior to working at Vogue. She appeared in a Teen Vogue spread alongside Coddington in September 2016.

Coddington was Vogue's legendary creative director for 30 years before she announced she was stepping down in 2016. Her long career at the magazine began after Anna Wintour, a past colleague, asked her to join US Vogue as creative director in 1988. Wintour told colleague Mark Holgate: "When she accepted I was over the moon."

But after three decades at the magazine, Coddington made the decision to pursue external projects while still remaining involved as editor-at-large. "It's just another approach. I'm certainly not going into retirement. I don't want to sit around," she said.

She then took on her current role as creative director-at-large, while working on other projects outside the publication.

Meanwhile, describing the justice system in New York, Cornacchia said: "The grand jury is a one-sided affair not a trial-only [and] the prosecutors present information to the grand jury - which is a body of 24 persons meeting in secret - so the prosecutors decide what witnesses and evidence to present to the grand jury."

"The prosecutors not only present the evidence but act as the judge by instructing the grand jury on the law.

"There only needs to be a finding of 'probable cause' for a grand jury to indict a person - the lowest possible standard in American law.

"This standard is far below the standard of 'beyond a reasonable doubt' necessary for a trial jury to convict in a criminal case and below the standard of 'a preponderance of evidence' necessary for a trial jury to find liability in a civil case.

"In a criminal trial, the jury is instructed by the judge that an indictment is evidence of nothing and is not to be considered by them in evaluating the case.

"As judges instruct, an indictment is the document that has brought everyone to the courtroom, that is all," he said.

The US fashion industry is renowned for being notoriously cut-throat - as famously portrayed in the movie 'The Devil Wears Prada.'

The film portrays the bitter infighting of the industry for laughs with a bravura performance by Meryl Streep, as Miranda Priestly, a powerful fashion magazine editor opposite Anne Hathaway as Andrea Sachs, a college graduate who lands a job as Priestly's co-assistant.

But there was an element of truth in the movie. Fashion publishing is ruthlessly competitive.

Sunday Independent

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