F.B.I. Opens Inquiry Into Ryan Adams’s Explicit Communications With an Underage Fan

The F.B.I. is looking into whether the singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, 44, committed a crime by engaging in sexually explicit communications with an underage fan, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter.

As reported by The New York Times on Wednesday, Adams and a young woman, who said her online communications with the singer began when she was 14 and continued until she was 16, exchanged text messages and conducted video calls that sometimes included nudity. The two never met in person.

Adams, through his lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, has denied that he “ever engaged in inappropriate online sexual communications with someone he knew was underage.” On Thursday, Brettler said that he had not been contacted by law enforcement. He declined to comment further.

In response to The Times’s article, F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s New York office on Thursday took the first steps to open a criminal investigation, according to the official, who declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The agents, from the Crimes Against Children Squad, will seek to interview the woman, the official said, and try to obtain the text messages and any other evidence she may have in her possession. If they find her account credible, they will take other investigative steps, which could include subpoenaing both her cellphone records and those of Adams from their service providers, the official said.

Federal law bars the sexual exploitation of children under 18, defining a violator as anyone who “persuades, induces, entices or coerces any minor to engage in” a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct. Several legal experts said that decisions on whether to prosecute such cases could hinge on whether the adult reasonably believed the minor was of legal age, taking into account context from their conversations.

While the inquiry was in its earliest stages, the official said that generally in such cases, agents seek to interview a victim’s friends and family members to determine whether they made contemporaneous statements about the contact.

[Read our report: Ryan Adams dangled success. Women say they paid a price.]

A lawyer for the woman, now 20, declined to comment as her family deliberated how to proceed. The Times identified the woman by her middle name, Ava, because she was a minor during these interactions. An F.B.I. spokeswoman, Amy J. Thoreson, declined to comment Thursday when asked about the matter.

The Times reviewed extensive communication between Adams and Ava, including direct messages on Twitter that began when she was 14, and more than 3,000 text messages spanning a nine-month period when Ava was 15 and 16. The text messages from late 2014, when Ava was 16, included explicit photographs of her. She said the pair also conducted video calls on Skype, where Adams exposed himself during phone sex. The Times has reviewed screenshots of these interactions.

Throughout their communication, Adams asked Ava, a successful bass player since she was 12, repeatedly about her age. “Do me a paranoid favor,” he wrote in November 2014, when he was 40 and she was 16. “Show me you are 18.” He invoked others accused of targeting girls, including R. Kelly.

Sometimes, in response to Adams’s prodding, Ava said she was older than she was. More than once Adams asked to see her identification, although she never provided any in the messages reviewed by The Times, and their sexual conversations continued.

Brettler said that Adams did not recall these conversations and added that while the singer has corresponded with fans and aspiring musicians online, Adams “does not recall having online communications with anyone related to anything outside of music.” Brettler also provided photos of Ava, in which he said her appearance suggested “that she was in her 20s.”

After the publication of the article, Adams posted on Twitter on Wednesday to apologize to “anyone I have ever hurt, however unintentionally,” though he continued to dispute the accuracy of The Times’s reporting. “I would never have inappropriate interactions with someone I thought was underage,” he wrote. “Period.”

Ava and other women interviewed by The Times said that Adams often dangled potential career opportunities as he pursued female artists in sexual scenarios. “Music was a point of control for him,” said Adams’s ex-wife, the singer and actress Mandy Moore.

Adams, a Grammy-nominated rock singer famous for his contributions to the genre known as alternative country, has released 16 studio albums and announced plans to release three more this year via Blue Note and his own Pax-Am Records. Capitol Music Group, which oversees those labels, declined to comment.

The allegations that Adams manipulated and harassed women in the music industry sent ripples through the business. “We’re all fed up,” the singer Vanessa Carlton wrote on Twitter. Bethany Cosentino, the singer of Best Coast, said that the same story “could literally be written about so many dudes in music.” And Tamara Lindeman of the Canadian band the Weather Station added: “Having to perpetually question if a potential collaborator is interested in you musically or personally is an enormous and unspoken barrier for women in music.”

Jason Isbell, a country singer who is scheduled to appear on one of Adams’s upcoming albums, wrote on Twitter that he had been unaware of Adams’s alleged behavior. Asked if he believed the women’s accounts, Isbell responded: “Yep.”

Melena Ryzik contributed reporting.

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