Sam Hoyt, who suddenly resigned his position as regional president of Empire State Development on Monday, reportedly paid a state employee last year to silence her as she pursued an official complaint against him.
The Buffalo News reports the woman, whose identity is being withheld, wished to end a romantic relationship with Hoyt. She filed a complaint with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and a state ethics agency more than a year ago.
The 51-year-old woman admits to having what she describes to the newspaper as a consensual and inappropriate relationship, but was upset Hoyt received accolades upon his departure from Empire State Development.
The woman, whose name is also being withheld by WBFO, agreed to a confidentiality agreement, but decided to break the agreement and go public with the details of the relationship after seeing the kudos Hoyt received.
In a statement Hoyt said he and his wife agreed to a settlement to avoid public embarrassment to their family.
“I have made many mistakes in my life. Having a short-term, consensual and inappropriate relationship with [the woman] was wrong and something I regret. 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,” Hoyt said.
The governor's office issued a written statement, acknowledging state officials received the complaint and instructed Hoyt to have no further contact with the woman and cooperate with the probe. According to the governor's office, an investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics is still pending.
“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,” the statement reads.
Hoyt, a former state assemblymember, served as regional president of Empire State Development Corp. until Monday, when he said he was leaving the state agency to pursue opportunities in the private sector. He had been a key point person for the Cuomo Administration's economic development initiatives in the Buffalo area since Cuomo took office in 2011.
This is not Hoyt's first brush against rules over sexual relationships. In 2008, the Assembly Ethics Committee found that he had an improper relationship with a 23-year-old intern. He was then barred from having interns for the rest of his time in the Assembly.
Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky lauded Hoyt's 30 years of public service Monday and said he played "a key role" in Buffalo's turnaround. Lt. Gov Kathy Hochul, later in the day, said Hoyt made a "great contribution" to the city's renaissance, particularly in regard to the development of Canalside through his work with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.
A spokesperson for Hochul has since told WBFO the lieutenant governor was not aware of the allegations against Hoyt when she made the comment.
"New York State does not tolerate employee misconduct or inappropriate relations in any form. A full investigation is underway, and any wrongdoing will be dealt with accordingly," said Jennifer O'Sullivan, Hochul's Director of Communications.
Assemblywoman Monica Wallace says she has been working to end confidentiality agreements like the one involved in this case.
"I'm actually going to be working with my colleague Nily Rozic in the Assembly to make sure that we don't have confidentiality where there are allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault," said Assemblymember Monica Wallace. "We need to make sure that women feel safe in the workplace."
The Lancaster Democrat said when talking about sexual assault or harassment in the workplace, "there should not be this sense that the allegations remain confidential."
"We want to make sure that more transparency, more exposure when there are those allegations and you flush them out to see whether they have any credibility or not, because sometimes they do, sometimes they don't," Wallace said.