Given Mr. Nygard’s alleged sway in the Bahamas, we were told we needed to be careful.
We switched hotels every few days so no one could track us. A Courtyard Marriott worker insisted that the hotel could not deny I was staying there if someone asked for me by name, so he disguised me as “LaKim LaBarker,” a pseudonym that seemed like poor tradecraft.
One source would talk to me only in a car; as he drove us through a wooded area, he said, worryingly: “Don’t worry. I’m not going to kill you.” People recorded our conversations without telling us. A man with a spoofed phone number (which hid his actual location and number) called my dad, looking for me. No one ever called my dad looking for me.
Mr. Nygard actively tried to shut down the article. He filed a racketeering lawsuit against Mr. Bacon, accusing him of trying to plant a false story with The New York Times. One of his lawyers called the allegations “paid-for lies.” Mr. Nygard’s spokesman falsely suggested that I had taken $55,000 funneled through Mr. Bacon’s foundation. (The so-called evidence: On a public 2016 tax return for the foundation’s grants, easily printable from the internet, somebody had scrawled “—BARKER $55K” next to a grant for Media Matters.)
Weeks before we first hoped to publish, we doubled down on our interviews, visiting our sources to corroborate their stories and crosschecking for inconsistencies. We found that Mr. Smith and his team had spread more money around than anyone had previously told us; in particular, they had paid two women who had helped find alleged victims.
Reporting was complicated by the fact that Mr. Smith had recently nearly died in a paragliding accident in Italy, and we had to interview him as he recovered in an Italian hospital. At times, he screamed in pain.
Then a reporter’s worst nightmare happened: Two accusers told us they had been lying all along. They said they had never met Mr. Nygard. They claimed they had been paid to lie — not by Mr. Smith, not by Mr. Bacon, but by a former Nygard employee, Richette Ross, one of the two women who had helped find victims for Mr. Smith. He had paid her the equivalent of $86,000 a year — for her security and to help with another lawsuit against Mr. Nygard, he claimed.
Ms. Ross passed a lie-detector test denying she had paid anyone to lie, the polygraph examiner told us. In December, her Florida lawyer sent me a cease-and-desist letter, threatening to sue if I continued talking about what we had been told.