Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2019

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Former erotic museum consultant sues founder, citing affair gone bad

Laura Henkel

Leila Navidi

Laura Henkel, former assistant curator of the Erotic Heritage Museum.

The Erotic Heritage Museum

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The former assistant curator of the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas has filed a suit against the museum's founder, who she says fired her then defamed and banned her from the museum after she ended an alleged three-year affair with him and then refused his advances.

Laura Henkel, who was fired two years ago from her consultant job, has filed a lawsuit in Clark County District Court saying her refusal to continue the alleged affair with Robert Theodore (Ted) McIlvenna has ended up costing her the job at the museum, led to McIlvenna defaming her, caused her emotional and physical pain, and made it difficult for her to continue working in her profession in erotic art and human sexuality.

Henkel, who is now living in Sausalito, Calif., is seeking a jury trial and damages in excess of $50,000, along with unspecified compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys fees.

McIlvenna, who was contacted Thursday, laughed when told about the details of the lawsuit, saying that he never had a sexual or romantic affair with Henkel and that the reason she was fired was over money she borrowed and didn't pay back to the museum.

McIlvenna said he has not seen the lawsuit but called the allegations nonsense.

"I was not the one who was crazy and jealous," he said. "... I'm 80 years old. She's a woman in her 40s."

Besides Henkel, the lawsuit lists Henkel Enterprises LLC, a dissolved corporation that had managed and represented artists from around the world, and Sin City Gallery LLC, a gallery based in the downtown Las Vegas arts district that is dedicated to erotic art.

In addition to McIlvenna and his wife, Winnie McIlvenna, both of San Francisco, there are seven other defendants in the lawsuit, including McIlvenna’s Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco, and the Erotic Heritage Museum, 3225 Industrial Road, which houses more than 17,000 square feet of permanent and featured exhibits “displaying artistic representations of sex and erotic memorabilia and ephemera.”

In the lawsuit, Henkel says the McIlvennas run both the human sexuality institute and the museum. She says that in 2003, she enrolled in the institute’s doctorate of human sexuality program and that Ted McIvenna became her mentor and professor.

She alleges he initiated a sexual relationship with her in 2004 that lasted until she told him she wanted to break it off in 2007 because she considered it “abusive and unhealthy.”

However, the lawsuit alleges, his obsession with her continued and “he alternatively treated her as his child and demanded sex with her.”

The lawsuit says he threatened to physically harm people she became involved with romantically and sexually.

“Given his unique position in the erotic arts and human sexuality study communities and his positions of power (over Henkel and her businesses), Ted McIlvenna controlled almost every aspect” of her life, including whether her degrees awarded by the institute and her academic achievements were recognized and marketable, the lawsuit says.

McIlvenna’s wife was aware and initially accepting of her husband’s sexual relationship with Henkel, the lawsuit says, “but later grew angry and jealous” as his obsession with her grew.

The lawsuit says that under McIlvenna’s demands, Henkel agreed to work as a consultant and to run the museum and help it become a part of the Las Vegas art and cultural scene and gain national and international attention.

McIlvenna’s wife’s jealousy and McIlvenna’s obsession with her created a toxic and stressful environment for her at the museum, the lawsuit says, and in 2009, she required hospitalization due to an anxiety attack. According to the lawsuit, she was terminated on Sept. 24, 2010, and barred from entering the museum.

Henkel claims in the lawsuit the defendants and their agents “launched a campaign to harass, intimidate, upset, defame and harm” Henkel and her reputation in Las Vegas, in the national human sexuality field, and with erotic artists and art buyers in attempts to strip her of her degrees from the institute.

The lawsuit also says the McIvennas told “a local newspaper” that she stole funds, mismanaged the museum and "entered into an illegal conspiracy with 'Germans.'" Ted McIvenna falsely told third parties that Henkel was under an FBI investigation and was involved in a foreign conspiracy, the lawsuit says.

McIlvenna said in the interview that the dispute involved Henkel borrowing money from the museum for her boyfriend, then going with her boyfriend on a trip to Germany. He said he fired her over the money issue.

"I simply terminated her for cause," he said.

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