An upstate woman has stepped forward to reveal she is the sex-harass accuser who prompted the resignation last month of a high-ranking Gov. Cuomo appointee — and to accuse the governor of repeatedly ignoring his pal’s “horrific acts.”
In a shocking Manhattan federal court lawsuit filed Saturday, Lisa Marie Cater alleges former Empire State Development Corp. regional president William “Sam” Hoyt got her a job at the DMV and then leveraged it to “manipulate, sexually harass and sexually assault” her.
The bombshell complaint — which names Cuomo and Hoyt as defendants — says Cater contacted Cuomo’s office no less than six times but met “deliberate indifference.”
The “barrage” of unwanted kisses, crotch-grabbing, stalking, and daily calls, emails and sexts continued for a year, until Cater found herself on “the brink of a nervous breakdown,” according to court papers.
Cuomo’s office denied ignoring Cater’s complaints.
“When Ms. Cater reported a complaint regarding Mr. Hoyt … it was immediately referred to the State Employee Relations Office for an investigation,” Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, told the Post. “At the same time Mr. Hoyt was instructed to have no further interaction with the complainant and to cooperate fully with the investigation.”
Cater, 51, first met Hoyt, 55, at a fundraiser in 2008 when the Buffalo Democrat was a state Assemblyman. Seven years later, in the fall of 2015, she was the victim of domestic abuse and about to be evicted. She began reaching out to local public officials, including Hoyt, for help.
Hoyt, by then the local boss of ESDC, a powerful state agency that funnels millions in taxpayer money to economic-development initiatives, began emailing her, about jobs and apartments. Some missives were flirtatious, the suit says, and “made it a point to advise [Cater] of his powerful position with the state and closeness to the governor and that he was in charge of patronage positions.”
That fall he helped her get an apartment. And in February 2016, he landed her a non-union secretarial job with a $30,000 salary in a predominantly union DMV office in Erie County, she said.
“He hung this job over my head,” she told The Post in her first on-the-record interview. “I felt like a possession of his.”
One day, Hoyt rang her doorbell and then “groped and … kissed” her, leaving her “in state of shock,” according to court papers. Fearful she would lose her job, she adopted a “go along to get along disposition.”
The “harassing calls, texts and emails” continued, even when he was vacationing with his wife, the suit says.
The 5-foot-10 Cater would receive texts and emails from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, the suit says. In one text, the 5-foot-7 Hoyt sent a nude photo and asked, “Do you think I look tan?”
Cater “began to shake uncontrollably” after receiving it, the suit says.
Unwelcomed overtures became more frequent. “Scared, helpless and knowing her job was on the line, [Cater] endured [Hoyt’s] behavior,” the papers say.
Cater came to fear Hoyt’s “instability” and anger, the suit says.
She twice called the governor’s office to file harassment complaints, according to court papers. The first time, she received no direction or referral. The second time, she was advised to complain to the harasser’s boss, which confused her, since she considered Cuomo to be Hoyt’s boss.
Next, she tried to email a complaint via an address on the governor’s webpage, but received no response, the suit says. She then communicated through Cuomo’s Facebook page and was again ignored, the suit says.
By August 2016, Cater was out of work on disability and had “mentally hit rock bottom,” according to court papers. “In the midst of her breakdown … Cater knew with certainty that she must confront her abuser.”
She and Hoyt met at a park in Buffalo. Hoyt, inexplicably, brought sandwiches.
Cater declared, “I don’t care. I can’t be abused by you anymore. I can’t mentally handle this. Take my job, take my apartment, I don’t care!”
Hoyt, “in a fit of predatory rage,” grabbed Cater by the crotch and squeezed as hard as he could, the suit says.
“You know this is what I want,” he allegedly said.
Devastated, Cater sought psychological help after the park meeting, and also went to the victims’ advocate at the Erie County DA’s office. She told Hoyt that he had “destroyed her mentally and how she would need … counseling and maybe even an institution.” She demanded that he “inform his boss (Governor Cuomo) of what took place,” the suit says.
“Hoyt explicitly told Cater that he had spoken with his boss/Governor’s Office and that Hoyt was told to ‘Make this go away,’’’ the suit says.
“Hoyt followed orders and ‘made [Cater] go away,’” the suit continues.
The agreement referenced is $50,000 in hush money Hoyt offered Cater. In exchange, he demanded her “silence,” the suit says.
David flatly denied anyone in the governor’s office ordered Hoyt to “make this go way,” saying it “is contrary to demonstrable facts, including the three separate investigations launched into the initial complaint.”
In October 2016, Cater signed the confidentiality deal, her current attorney Paul Liggieri, told The Post. He was not representing her at the time. Hoyt’s attorney, Terrence M. Connors told The Post the payout came from Hoyt’s personal account and not state funds.
Yet, Cater continued to seek Cuomo’s help.
After receiving a generic, mass email on women’s issues from the governor’s office, she saw a “glimmer of hope,” the suit says. She responded to the email by writing, “If you care so much about women’s issues, why do you allow Sam Hoyt to continue to harass me both verbally and sexually?”
The suit alleges the email was read by Noreen Van Doren, described as an attorney and employee for the governor’s office. The governor’s office disputed this and said she works for a different state agency.
The women discussed the charges and at the end of the conversation, VanDoren allegedly asked, “What is it that you want? Money?”
Cater, appalled, said she hung up. Van Doren emailed her, apologized, and referred her to the Inspector General’s office, the suit says.
“Any allegation that anyone offered the complainant a bribe is divorced from reality,” said the governor’s counsel.
Amid a state investigation, Hoyt resigned almost a year later, on Oct. 30, 2017.
“The Governor has never spoken to Mr. Hoyt about this,” a spokesman for Cuomo told the Post.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul praised him as he announced his exit from the $157,000-a-year post, which he claimed was to take a better job.
“The Hoyt family has been contributing to this community for generations, so we wish him well in his journey to the private sector, and appreciate the great work he’s done on behalf of the state,” Hochul told reporters.
The next day, it was revealed in the press that Hoyt had been accused of sexual harassment and paid his unnamed accuser $50,0000. Hoyt denied the harassment charge and said he tried to end a consensual relationship but was threatened by the woman.
Cater said she broke the confidentiality agreement when she saw Cuomo officials tossing public bouquets at a man who had ruined her life. At the time, she refused to be named publicly.
“This guy is leaving with fanfare. This isn’t right. Nobody has listened to me from day one … They are all acting like they didn’t know a damn thing about it,” she told The Post.
Hoyt — who took over his late father’s Assembly seat in 1992 and served in Albany until 2010 — is no stranger to sexual scandal. While a lawmaker, he had an affair with a 23-year-old student intern that began in 2003 and continued through 2005. The tryst came to light in 2008 after a blogger posted lurid emails between the two. He was reprimanded by since-disgraced Speaker Sheldon Silver and ordered to steer clear of student aides.
Despite his history, Cuomo appointed the fellow Dem to the lucrative economic development post in Buffalo in 2011.
“GOER identified information that warranted further review by the Inspector General’s Office and referred the matter accordingly,” David told the Post. “The IG conducted its own investigation, during which the complainant did not comply with repeated attempts to interview her … and the matter was referred to the [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 3 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.
Said Cater’s attorney, Liggieri: “Sam Hoyt was a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. The state should have known he was a wolf all along.”
“If I didn’t speak up and say something, nobody would have known anything,” Cater said. “Honestly and truly, this could be a ‘Lifetime’ movie. It’s that twisted. “
“You would think that a governor who prides himself on promoting women’s equality and rights would have responded immediately to the many cries for help,” Liggieri said.
The suit seeks unspecified damages.
Hoyt “denies the allegations in the complaint and will defend himself,” said his attorney, Terrence M. Connors.