A firm hired by the Florida House of Representatives to investigate claims of sexual harassment against state Rep. Fabian Basabe by two former staffers has released a report saying the allegations could not be substantiated, but that Basabe “likely should exercise better judgment regarding observing the delicate margins between the personal and professional with his subordinates (and their friends) in the future.”
The investigator, Marlene Quintana of the law firm GrayRobinson, interviewed Basabe, a former socialite turned Republican lawmaker from Miami Beach who was elected last year, and the two accusers, former legislative aide Nicolas Frevola and former intern Jacob Cutbirth.
Quintana wrote in her report that she sought to corroborate a slew of claims about Basabe’s conduct but was unable to do so.
That included Frevola’s claim that Basabe slapped Frevola’s butt in the back of a classroom at an elementary school career day and told Frevola he wanted “all of that butt,” and Cutbirth’s claim Basabe tried to kiss him in a hotel room after Cutbirth drove him home from a night out before he had been hired as an intern.
Two friends of Frevola who the former aide said had their own stories about Basabe behaving inappropriately were unwilling to speak with investigators, the report said.
“No one could provide any more detail to substantiate the conduct,” Quintana wrote.
Basabe, 45, has denied the allegations against him. In a statement Wednesday, he said he should “use better judgment in choosing who I allow access into my professional life.”
“I was let down by two young men I trusted who began their career paths on the wrong foot and ultimately with ill intentions for personal gain, in my opinion,” Basabe said. “My focus remains, first and foremost, on the interests of my constituents and the well-being of my district.”
A representative for House Speaker Paul Renner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report’s findings.
Frevola, 26, had previously accused Basabe of slapping him and telling him to stand in a corner during an event in Tallahassee in January. A different law firm hired by Renner to investigate that allegation found in June that there was “physical contact” between Basabe and Frevola, but that no witnesses could corroborate the slap and that it was “inconclusive” whether it had occurred. Basabe denied the allegation.
A sexual harassment lawsuit Frevola and Cutbirth filed against Basabe in July remains pending in Leon County Circuit Court.
Attorney says report missed key details
Cindy Myers, an attorney for Frevola and Cutbirth, told the Miami Herald the report released this week failed to take into account key evidence she provided to investigators.
That includes a text message Cutbirth, 24, sent to two friends on March 7, saying: “I quit the capital, kinda. I said I’ll help with their newsletter if that means I can keep the position on my resume but I won’t be going to the capital anymore and will be doing any [work] from home to avoid being sexually harassed.”
Myers also gave investigators contact information for the owner of a Tallahassee bar where Cutbirth worked. The owner, Carl Bengston, told the Herald in July that Cutbirth had shared with him comments by Basabe that made Cutbirth uncomfortable.
Bengston was not among the people investigators interviewed, according to the report.
“Mr. Cutbirth seemed very credible, but there is simply no independent corroboration for any of his allegations,” Quintana wrote.
The report notes that both Frevola and Cutbirth claimed Basabe made comments about sex being a “sport for men,” and says they shared similar stories of Basabe showing them a photo on his phone of a man who was either naked or wearing a bikini.
Basabe told investigators he showed Frevola and Cutbirth a photo of his friend in a bikini while in a movie scene.
A history of controversy
Basabe, a former New York socialite who appeared on reality TV shows in the mid-2000s, was narrowly elected last November to represent Miami Beach and other coastal cities in northeast Miami-Dade County. He faced backlash from some constituents during his first legislative session as he voted in lock-step with fellow Republicans on culture-war issues despite campaigning as a social moderate.
He has staunchly defended his legislative actions in Tallahassee, often in combative statements posted online.
Basabe also has a history of claims of bad behavior against him, mostly in social settings before his foray into politics began.
“As someone who has been in the public’s eye for a very long time, I have become accustomed to both bad and falsified press,” Basabe said in a statement Thursday. “I only hope that the media will now focus on the clearing of my name with as much vigor they applied when the allegations first surfaced.”
Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.