Sam Hoyt, who abruptly resigned as head of New York State’s regional economic development agency, paid $50,000 last year to silence a former state employee pursuing official complaints that he attempted to continue a budding romantic relationship that she wished to end.
The woman, whom The Buffalo News has agreed not to identify, said she is angry that Hoyt left his post as regional president of Empire State Development Corp. with accolades from high state officials after she lodged complaints more than a year ago with a state ethics agency and the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. She was not an employee with the development corporation and has since left her state job on disability.
She is so angry, she said, that she is willing to break the confidentiality agreement she signed in a document prepared by Hoyt attorney Terrence M. Connors, in which she also said Hoyt admitted no guilt and she agreed to pursue no further legal action in return for the money.
“I’m upset that he could walk away and everybody is saying how great he is,” she said Tuesday. “And I’m upset that no one from the state returned my calls and now all of a sudden everybody does. That is mind-blowing to me.”
Hoyt, 55, who served almost 20 years in the Assembly before taking over Cuomo’s regional economic development efforts in 2011, on Monday said he was leaving government service to consider possible private sector opportunities, though nothing had been finalized.
Hoyt said that he was the one who broke off the relationship and released this statement Tuesday:
"I have made many mistakes in my life. Having a consensual and inappropriate relationship with ... was wrong and something I regret.
"That said, what she has accused me of is categorically untrue.
"When I attempted to end the relationship she threatened me. At that point, over a year ago, my wife and I agreed to a settlement to avoid public embarrassment to our family.
"I am not certain why she has chosen to make these accusations today, but they are simply untrue."
The woman said that she has not heard from Hoyt since they reached the $50,000 agreement last October. The woman showed the agreement to a News reporter Tuesday.
The 51-year-old woman acknowledged Tuesday she was no “innocent angel” in her relationship with Hoyt. She said she first met the then-assemblyman at one of his fundraising clambakes.
Later, as he was heading Western New York’s economic development efforts while also serving as a key official and political ally of Cuomo, Hoyt helped her get an apartment and then the job, she said.
“I felt attracted to what he did for me and felt I owed him something,” she said Tuesday.
The woman described their initial relationship as “flirty,” and that she and Hoyt kissed “three or four times.” But she said their relationship did not advance beyond that stage, and that by August of 2016 she wished for him to leave her alone.
“It was fun in the beginning but went a little too far,” she said. “It needed to stop.”
She also said Hoyt met her in LaSalle Park where she revealed her wishes and that the state official then inappropriately grabbed her, causing her enough emotional distress that she sought a doctor’s counseling the next day. Hoyt denies the charge as "absolutely false."
“I said to him ‘If you don’t tell your bosses what you did to me I will tell them myself,’ ” she said.
The woman also shared with The News an email she said Hoyt sent her at the time she wished to end the relationship, in which he outlined her desire to help her situation.
“Obviously, there was a physical attraction,” the email said. “I’m a flawed man ... I wanted you and tried anything to have you without realizing the repercussions.”
The woman said she eventually brought her complaints to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, but has not heard from the agency recently.
She also said she received one reply from an Office of General Services ethics officer, an attorney, who initially offered help but was offended when the attorney asked if she wanted money.
“I hung up,” she said.
An OGS spokeswoman late Tuesday denied the claim.
“The representation regarding the OGS employee is incorrect," Heather R. Groll said. "No one ever hung up on the complainant or vice-versa and no one offered her money.”
The woman offered some details about her settlement with Hoyt. She said he came to her apartment to return a key she said he obtained when initially helping her find the dwelling. She told him she also needed for him to remove his name from her bank account, which stemmed from his agreement to co-sign a loan some months before.
“Sam said to me: ‘Would you take this money and go away? You can get the help you need and nothing will happen to you,’ ” she said. “He seemed generally concerned and I believed him. At that point, I was late on my rent and I shouldn’t have said OK, but I did. I was very close to my doctor putting me into ECMC. I spent one night on my kitchen floor wrapped in a blanket.”
She has had no contact with Hoyt since signing the document last year, adding the settlement in the end did little to solve her financial situation, which now centers mostly on Social Security disability checks.
The News reported Monday that Hoyt left his $157,000-a-year job with the state. Several sources said his departure came as a surprise, especially because he had been discussing planned projects as late as Friday.
Hoyt in 2009 was disciplined by the Assembly for an inappropriate relationship with a legislative intern.
“This is something I have been contemplating for a while,” he said Monday. “I received in recent years a number of offers and I decided to take it more seriously in the last few months.”
After The News reported the story, ESD Commissioner Howard A. Zemsky issued a statement pointing to his former employee’s long government service.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sam on the Buffalo turnaround, during which he played a key role,” Zemsky said. “Sam loves Buffalo, and Buffalo loves Sam, and I’m sure the next chapter in his career will be a very successful one.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, in Buffalo on Monday, added she was sorry to learn of Hoyt’s departure.
“We’ve been fortunate to keep him as long as we did,” she said. “He’s been a strong voice for the community.”
Dani Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, issued a new statement late Tuesday:
“All state employees must act with integrity and respect. When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately referred to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations 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. Based on interviews and evidence reviewed, GOER identified information that warranted further review by the Inspector General’s Office and referred the matter accordingly. The IG conducted its own investigation, during which repeated attempts to interview the complainant were unsuccessful and the matter was referred to JCOPE for investigation. With the investigation still pending, Mr. Hoyt separated from state service.”
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi also noted that officials took into consideration that the woman did not work at ESD nor was she under his supervision.
When asked why Albany did not act earlier on the situation, Azzopardi said Hoyt’s “responsibilities were scaled back and he was told to cooperate with the investigation.”
But the woman also said she is convinced that the matter has come to a head only because of the environment created by the recent revelations of sexual harassment lodged against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and others. Now she is receiving all kinds of calls from state investigators, she said.
“When someone says no,” she said, “it means no.
“He’s got three pensions from all his positions, and his life goes on,” she added. “Mine doesn’t.”