An upstate New York woman struggling to find a place to live and a job after ending an abusive relationship said a state employee helped her, only to use it as an excuse to sexually harass and assault her, and the governor knew and did nothing to stop it, according to a lawsuit.
The governor’s office denies the allegations.
Lisa Marie Cater, of Buffalo, says in court papers filed Saturday in federal court that she wrote to the Empire State Development Corp. in the fall of 2015 seeking help, and then-Regional President William “Sam” Hoyt wrote her back directly saying he could help her find a job. He secured a position for her at the department of motor vehicles in Buffalo, she says.
She says he began to sexually harass and assault her; he turned up at her home uninvited where he kissed and groped her, according to her complaint. He constantly sent her sexually harassing text messages and emails, including a nude photo of himself asking: “Do I look tan?”
An attorney for Hoyt has denied Cater’s allegations.
Cater says in court papers that Hoyt repeatedly reminded her that he could take her job away in a second if she complained or refused his advances. When she tried to tell him she couldn’t handle the abuse anymore, he attacked her, grabbing and squeezing her crotch area, the court papers say.
“You know this is what I want!” he said, according to the complaint.
She says last fall, Hoyt offered her $50,000 in exchange for her silence, and she signed the agreement without a lawyer because she couldn’t afford one.
Cater says she tried to complain to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office about the abuse, but officials ignored or were “deliberately indifferent” toward her, charges the governor’s office said were untrue. And at one point, Hoyt said he called Cuomo, and the governor wanted the allegations to “go away,” the suit alleges.
Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, said when Cater first reported the complaint in October 2016 it was immediately referred to the state Employee Relations Office for an investigation.
“At the same time Mr. Hoyt was instructed to have no further interaction with the complainant and to cooperate fully with the investigation,” he said.
The case was referred to the Inspector General’s office, later that October, but Cater didn’t comply with attempts to interview her, David said. The matter was referred to a third agency, the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“The facts alleged in this complaint regarding Mr. Hoyt were not provided to state investigators and in many cases contradict the public allegations made in the last several weeks. The state launched three separate investigations into this matter, and any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false, and as such, we expect this matter to be summarily dismissed,” David said.
Two of the probes are still open. Amid the investigations, Hoyt resigned Oct. 30. It came out the next day in news reports that he’d been accused of sexual harassment and paid off his accuser. He was appointed to the job in 2011 by Cuomo and before that served in the state Assembly.
His lawyer did not respond to a request by The Associated Press, but told the New York Post his client “denies the allegations in the complaint and will defend himself.”
The lawsuit says her civil rights were violated and seeks monetary damages and attorney’s fees.