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Sam Hoyt exonerated by ethics commission in sexual harassment case

Sam Hoyt has been exonerated of sexual harassment and assault charges by the state ethics commission.

The New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics concluded Thursday that Hoyt had not abused his public position when he entered into a personal relationship with Lisa Marie Cater. The commission also rejected Cater's claims that Hoyt had harassed and physically assaulted her, or threatened her employment with the state.

Lisa Marie Cater, right, with attorney Paul Liggieri, in New York last fall. (Jerry Zremski/Buffalo News)

"The Commission does not find Mrs. Cater or any of her claims to be credible," Seth H. Agata, the commission's executive director, wrote in a letter to Hoyt. "Indeed, Ms. Cater was, more often than not, evasive and unresponsive, initially refusing to meet with and then refusing to answer many questions, or provide additional documents to the Commission.

"In addition, her allegations are inconsistent with the documents collected by the Commission," Agata wrote. "Finally, there is forensic evidence establishing that some of the evidence she did provide to the Commission was fabricated. Despite repeated attempts to communicate with Ms. Cater, including through her various attorneys, she has neither been forthcoming nor has she provided additional information to clarify inconsistencies in her allegations or to address the veracity of the comments that she produced."

Lawyers question substance, style of woman's case against Hoyt, Cuomo

After his resignation Hoyt, who is married, had said through his attorney that he regretted what he said was "a short-term, consensual relationship" with Cater and denied all allegations of harassment or threats.

The bipartisan commission reviewed hundreds of pages of records, including email correspondence, information supplied and testimony taken by the office of the Inspector General, and employment records. Multiple witnesses were also interviewed, the commission said.

Hoyt resigned his position as regional president of Empire State Development on Oct. 30 right before Cater's allegations became public. Cater filed a federal lawsuit naming Hoyt and Cuomo, claiming the governor ignored or was slow to respond to her charges.

State officials said Cater failed to cooperate with three state agencies, including the state ethics commission, all of which had a role in investigating her charges.

The lawsuit has been a political headache for the governor, who was lambasted in a New York tabloid over it and attacked by Republicans. More recently, Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo for the Democratic nomination, and Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Marc Molinaro also slammed Cuomo for his ties to Hoyt.

However, the commission found the relationship between Hoyt and Cater was consensual.

"The weight of the evidence supports the existence of a consensual personal relationship" that began "around December 2015 and became strained in 2016," Agata wrote.

Hoyt helped Cater find housing and recommended she apply for a vacant position at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the commission found. He also gave her financial assistance when she went on disability leave.

In 2016, Cater, at times acting through an attorney, threatened to reveal their personal relationship unless Hoyt paid her $350,000, the commission found. Ultimately, Hoyt agreed to pay her $50,000 of his personal money in an attempt to keep their short-lived relationship under wraps.

"We are pleased that JCOPE found no evidence that Mr. Hoyt abused his public position, or used his official position to extort any sexual favors," said Mark F. Glaser, Hoyt's attorney.

Hoyt is also the defendant in a pending lawsuit filed by Cater in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

Carrie H. Cohen, Hoyt's attorney in that case, said she was hopeful the lawsuit will be dismissed.

"We also are pleased that after a thorough and complete investigation, JCOPE found the complainant's allegations to be without merit, and hope that these false allegations no longer will be used as fodder for political gain," Cohen said.

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