After initially avoiding questions about the departure of economic development chief Sam Hoyt, state officials have responded with reaction and details of how a case of alleged sexual harassment was handled.
The Buffalo News posed several questions to the Cuomo administration last week after Hoyt, a former assemblyman who was regional president of the Empire State Development Corp., abruptly ended his six-year stint. At the time, Hoyt said he was leaving to pursue private sector opportunities, while state officials praised him for his service.
The official praise prompted a woman, who last summer filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, to break a confidentiality agreement she signed in a document prepared by Hoyt attorney Terrence M. Connors. She said she was angered by the way Hoyt was allowed to leave his post while her accusations of his alleged harassment were still under investigation.
The agreement contained no admission of guilt by Hoyt, and the woman also agreed to pursue no further legal action in return for a $50,000 settlement.
Howard A. Zemsky, commissioner of the Empire State Development Corp. who praised Hoyt’s tenure immediately after The News reported his resignation, issued a new statement last week addressing the situation while still failing to answer specifics.
“I worked with Sam for six years and my earlier statement reflected that,” Zemsky said. “Information regarding Sam’s alleged conduct has come to light, and I want to make it very clear that ESD has a no tolerance policy for employment discrimination or unlawful harassment.
“This is not an ESD complaint or investigation, since the allegations stemmed from actions outside the agency,” he added. “JCOPE is currently investigating and I will reserve judgment and comment until the investigation is complete.”
State officials say no complaint was made to ESD, so the agency did not initiate an investigation. They have also noted the woman behind the complaint, whom The News is not identifying, worked in a separate branch of state government.
Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office also issued a statement indicating the state ordered investigations by three separate entities when officials became aware of the allegations, two of which continue.
“Mr. Hoyt was ordered to have no contact with the complainant,” press secretary Dani Lever said. “With these investigations still pending, he left state service.”
The newest statements from Albany did not answer several outstanding questions posed to state officials, including:
• Why did Zemsky applaud the former assemblyman’s record when investigations were under way over allegations that Hoyt had sexually harassed a state employee?
• Why did Hoyt, a close Cuomo official and political operative, leave his $157,000 job only last week when a probe of his romantic relationship with the a fellow state employee began months ago?
• Were Hoyt’s superiors aware of the money he paid the state employee in return for her silence and a promise to not seek legal recourse?
• Is the payoff a violation of any state policy?
The woman behind the complaint said she reported her concerns to ethics officials because Hoyt attempted to continue a relationship that she wished to end.
Hoyt, 55, insists he was the one who broke off the relationship while acknowledging its inappropriate nature in this statement:
“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.”
In 2009, Hoyt was disciplined by the Assembly for an inappropriate relationship with a legislative intern.