Actor Danny Masterson, best known for his role in the hit series That ’70s Show, appeared in court charged with raping three women in the early 2000s.
He is accused of raping the women, who were all in their twenties, between 2001 and 2003.
Mr. Masterson, 44, denies the charges and argued that he was being persecuted for his high-level membership in the Church of Scientology.
If found guilty, the actor could face up to 45 years in prison.
Free on a $ 3.3million (£ 2.5million) bond since his arrest in mid-June, Mr Masterson first appeared on charges in Los Angeles on Friday.
Although the actor did not plead, his lawyer, Tom Mesereau, vigorously defended his client, dismissing the charges against him as politically motivated.
The lawyer accused Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey of filing a political gain complaint before an attempt to keep her post in the November election.
“There have been repeated attempts to politicize this matter,” said Mr. Mesereau, who also defended Michael Jackson against allegations of sexual misconduct in a previous case. “He is absolutely not guilty and we will prove it. ”
Ms Lacey has yet to comment, but Assistant District Attorney Reinhold Mueller has dismissed Mr Mesereau’s claims as “false” and “pure speculation, without any factual basis.”
Mr Masterson’s three accusers attended Friday’s hearing, as around 20 of the actor’s supporters stood outside the courtroom, unable to enter due to regulations on coronaviruses.
The allegations against Mr Masterson first came to light in 2017, when the #MeToo movement that urged women to go public with allegations of misconduct gained momentum.
Mr. Masterson was removed from The Ranch – the Netflix comedy he starred in – because of the allegations.
- Netflix releases accused actor from Ranch
At the time, Mr. Masterson denied the “scandalous allegations” and vowed to clear his name “once and for all”.
“Obviously, Mr. Masterson and his wife are in complete shock considering that these nearly 20-year-old allegations suddenly lead to the filing of lawsuits, but they and their family take comfort in knowing that in the end the truth will be. revealed, ”his lawyer, Mr. Mesereau said in a statement.
The charges came after a three-year investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department. Prosecutors did not press charges in two other cases due to insufficient evidence and the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Mr. Masterson has been married to actor and model Bijou Phillips since 2011.
This’ 70s show – which also starred Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis – ran from 1998 to 2006, achieving huge international success.