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Songwriter used Craigslist to lure women to his apartment, court told

A veteran songwriter and film director who won an Oscar for his 1977 hit "You Light Up My Life" used Craigslist to lure 11 women into his apartment where he sexually assaulted them, according to charges filed against him in a New York court yesterday.

Prosecutors said Joseph Brooks, with the help of his personal assistant, made contact with his victims through the online classified website, or via a talent website that promised film roles. All the women were flown to New York to visit him in his apartment.

Mr Brooks, 71, in frail health after a recent stroke, could face up to 25 years in prison. The Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau said the case rested on 11 alleged assaults that fall within the five-year statute of limitations. He said investigators had information relating to one rape in 1990.

The defendant, who wrote and directed the film You Light Up My Life and composed the title song that won the Academy Award, pleaded not guilty. "He didn't do any of these things," said his lawyer, Jeffrey Hoffman.

Also accused is Shawni Lucier, 42, his assistant. "She picked the victims, set up travel arrangements and reassured them," said Lisa Friel, chief of the district attorney's sex crimes unit. She was charged with facilitating the alleged rapes.

As described by prosecutors, once the women were persuaded to come to New York, they were plied with wine by their host who would ask them to act out certain roles, such as a prostitute, as if they were auditioning for a role. "The Oscar was used as a prop," said Lieutenant Adam Lamboy of the special victims unit of the New York Police. Mr Brooks would say, "This could be you, this could be you holding this Oscar. If you do what I say", he added.