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State Rep. Fabian Basabe faces allegations of sexual harassment

State Rep. Fabian Basabe faces allegations of sexual harassment
State Rep. Fabian Basabe faces allegations of sexual harassment 05:28

MIAMI - A former intern and a legislative aide for Fabian Basabe are accusing the Republican State Representative of making repeated, unwanted sexual advances on them. 

The legislative aide, Nicolas Frevola, 25, claims that while Basabe was visiting North Beach Elementary for Career Day, he was standing with Basabe in the back of a classroom full of children when Basabe told him "I want all of that butt" and proceeded to smack Frevola on his backside. 

State Rep. Fabian Basabe faces allegations of sexual harassment 08:41

The second staff member, Jacob Cutbirth, worked as an unpaid intern in Basabe's office and claims Basabe told him he was required to flirt with the state representative whenever he was at the Capitol. The 24-year-old also claims Basabe counseled him to break off his engagement to his girlfriend and "explore his sexuality by having sex with men."

Both men said they were subjected to graphic conversations about sex and that Basabe showed them a naked picture of a man he kept on his phone.

The allegations are part of a lawsuit filed Thursday in Leon County Circuit Court by Frevola and Cutbirth against Basabe and comes amidst a joint investigation into Basabe's conduct by CBS News Miami and The Miami Herald. 

Complaint Concerning Libel or Slander by John MacLauchlan on Scribd

Attorneys for Frevola and Cutbirth said they will also be filing separate complaints for each of them with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeking a formal investigation.

House Speaker Paul Renner issued a statement saying the Florida House has a "zero-tolerance policy" when it comes to sexual harassment and "we will investigate the matter promptly, impartially, and in as confidential a manner as possible." 

State Rep. Fabian Basabe avoids questions from reporters 04:35

Basabe denies any wrongdoing, calling the allegations against him "ridiculous." He noted that Frevola had previously accused Basabe of slapping him across the face and that an investigation by an outside law firm hired by House Speaker Paul Renner had "cleared" him.

In its three-page report closing the investigation, however, the law firm found that "there was physical contact between" Basabe and Frevola, but because of "a lack of corroborating witnesses the finding is inconclusive."

When asked by CBS Miami in April if he had slapped Frevola, Basabe responded: "I don't remember anything like that. Nicolas Frevola is a good kid. He's been doing good work. I'm very surprised to hear that."

Basabe Fires Back 

After the report was released in late June, Basabe's opinion of Frevola had changed and he addressed Frevola in a lengthy statement on social media, decrying a "false accusation" made by "lazy, entitled, unscrupulous, self-involved, ungrateful, lying scum." Basabe also wrote about Frevola's mother, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, referring to the two of them as "this conning, scheming mother and son duo" who "appear to be making suing a profession. They have a reported history of lawsuits against anyone who they think can or will pay."

Following Basabe's social media post, Basabe was asked by CBS Miami and The Miami Herald to provide details to support his charge that Nicolas Frevola and his mother, Janette, have "a reported history of lawsuits against anyone who they think can or will pay."

Basabe, however, failed to provide any specifics. Attorneys for the Frevolas said there have been no such lawsuits. And a review of court filings across the state found no record of the type of lawsuits described by Basabe.

Basabe's attorney, Robert Fernandez, issued the following statement after the lawsuit was filed Thursday: "We are currently reviewing the Complaint that was just filed. Representative Basabe will not be litigating this frivolous and meritless lawsuit in the media or giving it any more public attention than it deserves---which is none."

"Representative Basabe looks forward to defending himself in court and we believe he will be fully vindicated once these allegations are scrutinized under the rule of law," Fernandez continued. "In the meantime, Representative Basabe will continue to focus on the issues important to the citizens of Florida."

In his interview last week with CBS Miami, Basabe stood by his attacks on the Frevolas and his description of Nicolas as "lying scum," saying, "to think that somehow, making things up about me would be either a shortcut to advancement or a distraction from his own problems, I didn't appreciate it."

Pressed again about why he would disparage Frevola and his mother, a retired law enforcement officer, Basabe said: "They have their own reputation and that's something that they're going to have to face. And that's a question for them. I don't really want to get involved with them anymore."

The lawsuit filed Thursday by Nicolas Frevola, Cutbirth, and Janette Frevola against Basabe detailing the sexual harassment, also includes one count of defamation, on behalf of Nicolas and Janette Frevola.

"As offensive as the statement [made by Basabe] are, it is even more shocking that they were made by a public official in response to an investigation of his misconduct while in public office," the lawsuit states, adding Basabe's social media post was retaliatory and intended to keep others from coming forward.

But it is the allegations of sexual harassment that are potentially the most explosive for the embattled freshman legislator.

Political Ramifications  

Basabe, who won his race in 2022 in a narrow victory, was already facing widespread criticism from the gay community for his support of Governor Ron DeSantis's conservative agenda.

Basabe, who represents Miami Beach, campaigned in 2022 as a moderate who was supportive of LGBTQ issues. After arriving in Tallahassee, however, Basabe voted in favor of a bill expanding the so-called Don't Say Gay law, barring instruction on sexual orientation through the eighth grade; backed a measure preventing public school teachers from asking students their preferred pronouns through the 12th grade; and defended a bill making it a crime to host a live performance with "risqué content" in which anyone under the age of 18 attends, even if they are accompanied by a parent. Although it does not mention drag shows, the bill's supporters cited drag shows as the impetus for the new law.

Following his votes in Tallahassee, Basabe rode in Miami Beach's Gay Pride parade with his car flanked by police. Throughout the route, Basabe was booed and heckled by parade goers and gay rights groups have roundly condemned him for his support of Governor Ron DeSantis's agenda.

Basabe, a former reality TV performer who is married to the heiress of the La Perla lingerie fortune, avoids questions about his own sexual orientation, and has offered different answers over the years.

The accusations by two of his two male aides may bring renewed attention to that question.

What They Claim Happened  

According to attorneys for Frevola and Cutbirth, Cutbirth first met Basabe in a bar in Tallahassee on December 14. When Frevola and Basabe arrived, according to the attorneys, they were introduced to Cutbirth through mutual friends.

According to the complaint, Basabe became intoxicated, and he was asked to drive the newly elected legislator back to his hotel.

"While Cutbirth was driving, Basabe began to physically touch and grope him and to grab at him to try to kiss him," the lawsuit states. "Cutbirth found this touching to be offensive, and he told Basabe to stop touching him."

"When Cutbirth and Basabe arrived at Basabe's hotel, Basabe attempted to entice Cutbirth to come up to his hotel room with him to have sex. Cutbirth refused to go to the hotel room with Basabe."

"Cutbirth recognized that Basabe was intoxicated, and he believed that when Basabe became sober, he would be embarrassed by his behavior and refrain from engaging in such acts and comments in the future," according to the complaint.

On January 24, 2023, Cutbirth was hired as an unpaid intern, working for Basabe at the Capitol two days a week.

"Cutbirth believed the invitation to serve as Basabe's intern was an apology for the offensive touching and comments," the lawsuit states.

But within a week, Cutbirth said Basabe started making inappropriate sexual comments. He alleges Basabe described Cutbirth as "eye candy" and on several occasions, Basabe called Cutbirth into his office and "told Cutbirth that he needed to flirt with him (Basabe) while he was in the office."

In the lawsuit, Cutbirth said Basabe started giving him advice about his personal life.

"Basabe told Cutbirth that he should not marry his girlfriend/fiancée," the lawsuit states, "because the marriage would never last, and that Cutbirth should explore his sexuality by having sex with men."

"On February 21, 2023, Basabe showed Cutbirth and Nicolas Frevola a photograph of a naked man on his (Basabe's) phone."

Basabe's comments allegedly grew even more explicit.

On March 7, according to the suit, Basabe went into graphic detail regarding the type of sex he enjoys, describing himself as a "bottom" and encouraging Frevola and Cutbirth to be "tops."

The lawsuit says after that comment on March 7, Cutbirth left the office and never returned.

Cutbirth provided a copy of a text message he says he sent to a friend on that same day, saying "I quit the capital" adding "I won't be going to the capital anymore and will be doing any [work] from home to avoid being sexually harassed."

In the interview last week, Basabe said he did not know why Cutbirth stopped working for him, but suggested Cutbirth was having family problems he needed to address.

Prior to his internship with Basabe in 2023, Cutbirth worked as an intern in 2021 for State Senator Debbie Mayfield, a Republican from Vero Beach. She said she remembered Cutbirth as being always on time, attentive and eager to volunteer to do extra work.

"I had no issues with him," Mayfield said.

Asked if Cutbirth seemed like the type of person who would falsify an accusation of sexual harassment, Mayfield said: "Based on my brief time with him, no. I never experienced any issues or problems where he was not telling the truth or being honest."

Carl Bengston, the owner of 926 Bar & Grill, where Cutbirth works as a bartender, recalled Cutbirth coming to him during the legislative session to discuss Basabe's alleged behavior.

"It just raised a bunch of red flags for me," Bengston said.

He said he grew increasingly concerned when Cutbirth told him that Basabe would ask him the types of sexual positions he likes and asked him to describe the size of his penis.

"It takes a lot for my skin to crawl, and it was making my skin crawl," he said.

Bengston, who is gay, said he warned Cutbirth that Basabe's actions seemed predatory and that Cutbirth should try to get another internship.

"It seemed to me like it was escalating, this was one of those people who just wasn't gonna take no for an answer," Bengston said.

New Details

The suit also provides new details on the incident in January in which Basabe allegedly slapped Frevola at an event following Ron DeSantis's inauguration.

The suit claims that Basabe was at a local lobbying firm, which had hosted a party for the inauguration. CBS Miami has confirmed through multiple sources that the event was hosted by The Southern Group, one of the largest and most influential lobbying firms in Tallahassee.

Basabe, the suit alleges, had been drinking all day and by the time they were at the lobbying firm, Basabe was intoxicated. Frevola stated he was talking to a lobbyist for the firm, Karis Lockhart.

According to the complaint, Basabe approached the pair and asked Frevola if this was the same woman he had "slept with" a few weeks earlier. Both Frevola and Lockhart expressed shock at the question, and said no. At that moment, according to the lawsuit, Basabe became angry, said, "Oh, so you are cheating," and slapped Frevola across the face telling him to stand in the corner.

The investigation into the slapping incident, conducted by the outside law firm, summarizes the encounter this way: "Lobbyist 1 stated she was in a conversation with Frevola when Basabe approached, asked both she and Frevola a question, but that she immediately left the conversation at that point in time and did not witness Basabe slap or touch Frevola."

The report does not say what question Basabe asked when he approached them. CBS Miami and the Herald have asked for all records from the House Speaker related to the probe, including transcripts of interviews with witnesses. That request is still pending.

Reached by phone, Lockhart said she was unable to speak about the slapping incident at that time but would call back later. She did not respond to subsequent calls and texts.

The lawsuit by Frevola and Cutbirth also provides details on the alleged incident at North Beach Elementary.

"On December 20, 2022, while Basabe and Nicolas Frevola were at the North Beach Elementary School for the school's Career Day and standing in the back of a classroom full of children, Basabe stated to Nicolas Frevola, 'I want ALL of that butt' and then Basabe touched Nicolas Frevola's buttocks by slapping it with his hand."

Both Cutbirth and Frevola said they didn't know what they could do or how to report Basabe's behavior because he made both of them sign Non-Disclosure Agreements when they went to work for Basabe. Cutbirth and Frevola provided CBS Miami and the Herald copies of the NDA they claim Basabe made them sign.

When asked two months ago if he required his staff to sign NDAs, Basabe said: "There's an application package, whatever is in there is in there. I don't deal with the hiring process."

The Florida Legislature does not require or provide NDAs for its employees. Basabe now acknowledges and defends forcing his staff to sign NDAs.

"There's a lot of people involved in my life, there's my family, there's my friends, there's a lot of interesting people, a lot of high-profile people," he said. "And I try to protect their privacy specifically from opportunists like the one which we just witnessed. It's a pretty standard thing."

Basabe Denies The Allegations

In the interview with CBS Miami last week, Basabe repeatedly denied he had touched anyone inappropriately or made lewd or suggestive comments. He said, if Frevola "had any other false accusations to make in the months that he had to make them, I think he should have done so."

Attorneys for Cutbirth and Frevola say the law firm hired by Speaker Renner to investigate the claim that Basabe slapped Frevola was told about the sexual harassment allegations weeks ago but took no action. The attorneys even said they offered to provide investigators with sworn statements, but the attorneys said their offer was ignored.

A spokesman for Speaker Renner issued the following statement: "The Florida House has a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. Outside counsel will conduct a thorough investigation into the allegation. Pursuant to House policies, we will investigate the matter promptly, impartially, and in as confidential a manner as possible."

"Every employee of the Florida House is provided a copy of the administrative policy manual which outlines how to report allegations of sexual harassment with Florida House staff and leadership," the statement continues. "This new allegation was brought forward after the completion of an investigation regarding an alleged physical altercation between Rep. Basabe and a Florida House employee, which included interviews of the complainant's witnesses, and produced inconclusive findings."

In addition to the count of defamation, the suit includes two counts of battery on behalf of Nicolas Frevola for the alleged slap across the face in January and the alleged slap on his backside at the school; and one count of battery on behalf of Cutbirth, for the reported incident in which Basabe allegedly groped and grabbed Cutbirth "in a sexual manner."

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