Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

Canadian cops hunt former Opera Tampa maestro Daniel Lipton in connection with sexual assault

Daniel Lipton, Opera Tampa’s most recent artistic director, is being sought by Canadian authorities in connection with a sexual assault.

The alleged assault took place in the late 1980s, a woman the Times is not naming told the Hamilton Police Service in Hamilton, Ontario. Police have narrowed it to between January 1988 and January 1990, Detective Sgt. Dave Dunbar of the service’s sexual assault unit told the Times. That is when, according to police, Lipton assaulted a woman at his Hamilton residence.

The time frame is indistinct, Dunbar said, because the woman did not tell authorities until January 2016. By February 2017, police were finally ready to arrest Lipton, now 77 — if they could find him.

That was no easy task. The director had left the now-defunct Opera Hamilton and Canada decades ago. Since 2012 he had lived in Tampa six months a year, as his contract required. But in Opera Tampa’s lengthy off-season, he could be found flitting from Belgium to Beijing, Italy or France, or relaxing in his residence in Potsdam, Germany.

"You hear whispers," Dunbar said Wednesday. "Social media sites may direct where someone appears to be or could be.’’

Officially, Lipton’s whereabouts are a mystery. Except they aren’t.

Reached by phone Wednesday by the Times, Lipton said he was living in New Port Richey but had just returned from conducting an opera festival in Italy.

He’s aware that Canadian police would like to arrest him but said the accusation by a former friend is "completely fabricated."

Asked if he had any thoughts as to why a woman had accused him of assault, Lipton said, "No, not really. I am perplexed by it all. Why is all of this relevant, especially after 28 years?"

The accusation also calls attention to Lipton’s unexpected resignation from Opera Tampa in July, months after the arrest warrant was issued. At the time, Lipton had eight months left on a six-year contract.

Judith Lisi, president and chief executive officer of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and a founder of Opera Tampa, said she learned about the arrest warrant after being called out of a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

"It is very disappointing and surprising, actually, because we had never heard of that," Lisi said. Before hiring him in 2012, she said, the Straz’s human resources department conducted an international background check.

"They said it came back clean at the time," Lisi said.

The Straz also employs a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment. Lipton said his departure from the Straz had nothing to do with the warrant for his arrest.

Lipton rode into Tampa on a cloud, following the retirement, at 95, of founding artistic director Anton Coppola. He began Opera Tampa’s 20th season with Rigoletto and Madame Butterfly, both surefire crowd pleasers.

Handsome and charming, he exuded urbane good manners. He once spoke seven languages, Lipton told the Times in 2015, but time had diminished his command to "only five."

In Canada, he had won audiences at Opera Hamilton since taking over as artistic director in 1986. An incident a few years later, according to his accuser’s husband, changed everything.

"It is an incredible story," said James Lorimar, 75, a Canadian who says he is married to the woman accusing Lipton. "In terms of the person he assaulted, it was so out of her experience. The story is so extreme, so traumatic."

Sandra Antoniani, a lawyer representing the accuser, declined to state details of the crime but said, "I can certainly confirm that this was a serious sexual assault. That is absolutely the case."

Lipton said he remembers that evening 28 years ago as a date, one he learned had gone wrong "after the fact."

Reconstructing the event meant "basically figuring something is completely wrong there," he said. Lipton said he had been misinterpreted and had not raped or assaulted anyone.

Where Hamilton police go from here is up in the air. Lipton could be extradited, but that would require a decision by the Crown prosecutor, Dunbar said. If convicted, Lipton could face anything from a suspended sentence to years in jail.

At the time Lipton stepped down in July, Lisi said the Straz had enjoyed "a very nice five years with him" and wished him well.

On Wednesday, she indicated that his departure was the right decision.

"It was mutual," she said. "There were a number of things. He was doing more work at a number of places. It seemed to be the right thing at the time."

This bizarre denouement is "sad for everybody, to be honest with you," Lisi said.

As for Lipton, he said he might return to Hamilton to face the charges.

"I am contemplating that," he said.

Dunbar said Lipton has ignored numerous email and voicemail messages requesting he contact the Hamilton police. Lipton said he did not receive any messages.

He also might go back to Italy. He is in love, he said, and thinks he might want to get married. Given the high numbers of women coming forward with sexual assault and harassment accusations since the downfall of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Lipton had this to say:

"It’s all the rage now."

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

   
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