LONDON - The celebrated American magician David Copperfield has been accused by 16 women of engaging in sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior, according to a Guardian US investigation.

More than half of the allegations are from women who said they were under 18 at the time of the incidents. Some said they were as young as 15, although he may not have known their ages.

The allegations against him include claims that he drugged three women before he had sexual relations with them, which they felt they were unable to consent to.

The claims against the 67-year-old illusionist – which he has denied – span from the late 1980s to 2014.

The Guardian US is examining these allegations as part of a series of stories that has drawn on interviews with more than 100 people and court and police records.

The women who have made allegations about Copperfield’s behavior met him through his work as one of the most successful entertainers in the world.

Some of the women told the Guardian it was only in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement that they had felt able to speak out about their alleged experiences with Copperfield.

Asked about the claims, Copperfield denied wrongdoing of any kind.

His lawyers told the Guardian that he has “never acted inappropriately with anyone, let alone anyone underage”. They said a “truthful” depiction of Copperfield would describe his “kindness, shyness and treatment of men and women with respect”.

They said Copperfield is a champion of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged women to come forward and tell their stories of alleged abuse.

They also said there had previously been “numerous false claims” made against him.

Copperfield has been accused of misconduct in the past. One of the 16 women, Brittney Lewis, went public in 2018 with allegations that he had drugged and sexually assaulted her in 1988, when she was a 17-year-old model. Copperfield denied the claims, which were published in The Wrap, a digital news outlet that covers media and entertainment.

One other woman told the Guardian she had a similar experience, alleging that she and a friend were drugged and that both were unable to consent before he had sex with each of them.

“I … would never just say this to somebody if I didn’t truly, honest to God believe that I was drugged at that time,” said Gillian*, who said she agreed to meet Copperfield for a drink in 1993, following one of his shows.

Lawyers for Copperfield denied Gillian’s allegations and said no such claims or complaints had been made against him at venues he was performing in at the time. The lawyers also said that drugs are “not a part of his world”.

In four other cases women claimed that Copperfield had groped them or made them touch him in a sexual way during live performances on stage. Three were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents. Family members of one 15-year-old who were seated in the audience claim they witnessed him grope her breasts.

Lawyers for Copperfield said claims that Copperfield touched women inappropriately were “not only completely false but also entirely implausible”.

Fallon Thornton, 38, told the Guardian that Copperfield squeezed her breast after calling her on stage during a January 2014 performance at MGM Grand casino-hotel. She reported the allegation to MGM and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, records show, but Thornton felt her claim was never taken seriously. The Las Vegas police told the Guardian it closed the case because of “insufficient evidence”.

Copperfield’s lawyers also alleged that law enforcement at the time told Copperfield’s team that video footage of the performance Thornton attended did not show him touching “the chest area” of any participant. Neither Copperfield’s lawyers, Las Vegas police nor MGM shared footage of the performance with the Guardian, despite requests.

MGM, the entertainment and gaming conglomerate where Copperfield has regularly performed since 2000, declined to comment on the alleged 2014 incident or other allegations against Copperfield.

The Guardian’s investigation highlighted common themes among the allegations: several women said Copperfield promised to help them with their careers in modeling or the entertainment industry and that he attempted to maintain contact with them and their parents.

One woman, Carla* claimed that after meeting Copperfield at one of his shows in 1991, when she was 15, he began calling her late at night. She said she now feels she had been “groomed”. She said he sent her gifts and tickets to his shows. After she turned 18, she said, they had consensual sex. She said it was her first time.

Lawyers for Copperfield did not dispute that the magician had known the teenager, and said they had a wholly legal and consensual relationship that had lasted four years. The lawyers said he “strongly denies any suggestion of grooming or any other impropriety”.

Separately, Copperfield has faced scrutiny because of his association with Jeffrey Epstein, the indicted child sex trafficker who killed himself in prison in 2019.

Copperfield was among the high-profile individuals who were named in Epstein-related court documents that were unsealed in January. The inclusion of Copperfield’s name does not mean he committed a crime. According to one sworn statement, Copperfield asked one woman – who, it later emerged, was one of Epstein’s victims – whether she was “aware that girls were getting paid to find other girls” for Epstein.

His lawyers told the Guardian Copperfield had heard a “rumor” about this but had “no knowledge or belief that anything improper was going on”. His lawyers also said he had seen “no reason to contact law enforcement or to raise the matter with others” after the woman he asked did not express any concern. Epstein, the lawyers said, was not someone Copperfield regularly socialized with.

“Our client did not know about Epstein’s horrific crimes,” his lawyers said. “Like the rest of the world, he learned about it from the press.”

The illusionist announced to fanfare in October 2023 that he was teaming up with Save the Children, the global charity, for an elaborate stunt scheduled for February 2024 that would make the moon “disappear”.

The partnership was announced on NBC’s Today show and Save the Children issued a press release hailing their collaboration, saying that Copperfield’s “message of positivity and passion for helping children around the world are a perfect complement to the difficult work we do every day.”

But the illusion did not occur in February as planned. Save the Children, which removed its announcement from its website, confirmed to the Guardian that its partnership with Copperfield ended on 4 January 2024. This was one day after Copperfield’s name was referenced in the unsealed court records related to Epstein. Save the Children declined to comment on whether the release of the Epstein documents was behind its decision to end the partnership.

On his Instagram account, Copperfield posted on 29 February that he would still be making the moon disappear. “Some cool new developments are taking extra time.”

Copperfield’s lawyers said he took “unjustified attacks” on his reputation very seriously, and that he hoped his partnership with Save the Children will continue again in the future.

His lawyers added their client has never been charged with a crime.