BUFFALO, NY - The attorney for a woman who claims Governor Cuomo’s former right hand man in Western New York sexually harassed her, is speaking out after a state ethics commission cleared Sam Hoyt of those charges.
Paul Liggieri sent a lengthy statement to 2 On Your Side on Monday, which appears at the conclusion of this article.
In a letter released over the weekend by Hoyt’s current attorney, the head of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics – or JCOPE (which is led by an appointee of the Governor) wrote to Hoyt:
"The Commission has found no evidence that you at any time used your official position to help Ms. Cater obtain a job, gain other assistance, threaten her employment, or extort sexual favors."
The woman referred to is Lisa Marie Cater, who has also filed a federal lawsuit claiming Hoyt forcibly kissed her and harassed her after helping her get a state job, and that the Cuomo administration ignored her complaints, allowing the alleged harassment to continue.
JCOPE found that while using his influence get Cater a job with the DMV, Hoyt, who is married, engaged in a consensual affair with her. Hoyt has admitted the affair, and that he paid Cater $50,000 in hush money to keep the affair quiet.
Cater has steadfastly denied the two had a consensual affair, accusing Hoyt of harassing and assaulting her.
In a statement Sunday, Hoyt's attorney, Mark Glaser, said he was "pleased" JCOPE found no evidence Hoyt "abused his public position or used his official position to extort any sexual favors" and that the "weight of the evidence supports that any relationship Mr. Hoyt had with the complainant was consensual."
Liggieri, meanwhile, noted that the executive director of JCOPE, Seth Agata, is a former Cuomo aid, and inferred that neither Agata, nor any of the other JCOPE members appointed by the Governor are interested in getting to the truth as much as they are protecting the Governor in this latest scandal involving his administration.
Accusing the Accuser
JCOPE not only found Cater's accusations "not-credible", but it also accused her of "fabricating" some evidence.
That may largely center on an e-mail Cater provided to 2 On Your Side, and which we reported on back in November.
In it, she reads Hoyt the riot act for attempting to force himself on her.
But Hoyt's former attorney, Terry Connors, produced another e-mail sent from the same address, and sent at the same date and time... in which Cater allegedly professes her undying love for Hoyt, calling him special, thanking him for helping her, and stating that any harm that has come to her is by her own doing.
"JCOPE's decision is doubly devastating because it shows how little concern the Governor has for ethics violations and for victims of sexual harassment," said Lauren Hitt, spokesperson for the campaign of Cynthia Nixon, who is opposing Cuomo in the democrat primary for Governor.
“The Governor appointed someone with a history of sexual misconduct to a senior position in his administration. When that person was accused of harassment again, he was sent to a board that is infamous for protecting Albany insiders rather than holding them accountable. As long as JCOPE is controlled by the Governor, it will have zero credibility to take on corruption or sexual harassment within his administration,” Hitt said.
It was not Hoyt's first sexual-harassment investigation.
In 2003, Hoyt was prohibited from participating in the Assembly’s internship program after the chamber’s ethics committee found he had an “inappropriate personal relationship” with a 23-year-old intern.
Hoyt abruptly resigned from his post as Western NY Regional President of Empire Development Corporation last October, just before Cater went public with her accusations.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, said JCOPE was "not set up to investigate sexual harassment nor is it qualified to do so."
"The nearly all male body cannot credibly investigate or draw conclusions about what did and did not happen in the Hoyt case," Lerner said.
Dutchess County Executive and republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro was also quick to respond, saying JCOPE's decision should be viewed with "deep skepticism."
"Make no mistake about it: JCOPE is a direct political appendage of Andrew Cuomo and this decision reeks of another whitewash," he said in a statement.
In a statement, JCOPE spokeswoman Walt McClure did not comment directly on Hoyt's case. But he noted any letter outlining findings must be approved by the full JCOPE board.
"Such actions require a majority vote – 8 votes – which means that Commissioners from both political parties and who are appointed by both Executive and Legislative branch leaders must vote in favor for that to occur," McClure said.
Cater's Lawyer Responds
The following is the statement sent to 2 On Your Side by Cater’s attorney, who represents her in her ongoing federal court lawsuit, motions for which are due to be argued next week in Manhattan
• I am in receipt of the letter issued by the joint commission on public ethics (“JCOPE”) which is addressed to William B. Hoyt III. The letter from Seth Agata, former counsel to Governor Cuomo himself and handpicked to serve as J-COPE’s director, seems to exonerate Mr. Hoyt of any wrong doing. J-COPE’s basis for this finding is predicated, ostensibly, on their review of documentary evidence and Ms. Cater’s alleged failure to cooperate. Respectfully, I find the opinion of JCOPE to be unpersuasive at best and overly vague. At one point, the committee opines that there was “conflicting evidence concerning the exact nature and extent” of the relationship with Mr. Hoyt, but makes no effort to cite to the actual evidence. To that end, we maintain that Ms. Cater cooperated to the best extent possible; however, Ms. Cater felt a lack of confidence in the JCOPE process because they are far from an independent board. Claims of sexual harassment must be taken seriously by J-COPE and by the state of New York. The claims should be handled by experts in the area or by a separate independent advisory body. I am renewing my call for the state of New York to appoint an independent committee, with an equal amount of male and female members, to investigate claims of sexual harassment in the work place. I will not rest until we can be sure that all female employees of NYS have an independent forum for their voices to be heard.
It took a lot of courage for Ms. Cater to come forward and speak out against Mr. Hoyt’s actions. Ms. Cater was standing up for her own rights as a female and as a victim of sexual harassment, by coming forward to demand justice. Ms. Cater demanded that New York state officials be held accountable for their actions but those demands fell on deaf ears.
As Ms. Cater’s attorney, I am confident that the federal court in Southern District of New York will serve as a neutral forum for Ms. Cater to find justice. Ms. Cater maintains the veracity of her claims as alleged in her federal complaint and we look forward to proceeding with the case in court.-Paul Liggieri, Esq.