Ordinarily this would not be a surprising or especially newsworthy story, at least not at the national level. A controversy-tangled freshman Republican member of the Florida state House of Representatives, Fabian Basabe, has been accused of sexual harassment and some mix of unwanted touching and assault by two members of his staff. Basabe, 45, is billed as a former New York City socialite who appeared on a couple reality shows. He’s married Martina Borgomanero, the heiress to a lingerie fortune. (A very South Florida story, as you can tell — he represents Miami Beach and environs.) He was already in some hot water in his socially tolerant, gay-friendly district for voting in lockstep with state Republicans pushing Ron DeSantis’s anti-“woke”/LGBTQ agenda. The accusers are one staffer, Nicholas Frevola, 25, and one former intern, Jacob Cutbirth, 24.
As I said, not unremarkable, but bordering on a news story cliche: An apparently closeted, if in this case perhaps lightly closeted, Republican rep accused of harassing and fondling male staffers. He denies it; news at 11.
Where it gets interesting though is that the investigation by The Miami Herald and CBS News Miami strongly suggests a cover-up by the Republican leadership of the state House, specifically House Speaker Paul Renner, a key DeSantis ally.
The story starts with an alleged incident in which Basabe slapped Frevola across the face and told him to stand in a corner as some sort of punishment at a private event in January. Frevola has been on paid leave since the incident. Renner retained an outside law firm to investigate the accusations and last week the firm reported back that the results of its investigation were “inconclusive.” Basabe claimed that he was cleared and it would appear that was that.
But it apparently wasn’t that. Frevola and Curbirth have now sued Basabe for sexual harassment and unwanted touching. Critically, they now claim with a fair amount of evidence that they brought these claims to the outside firm conducting the investigation and were met with a mix of yessing, excuses and eventually simply ignoring their claims.
If you’re interested in all the details of the harassment, the substantial amount of contemporaneous evidence the two men have marshaled and Basabe’s apparently bogus accusations against Frevola and his mom, definitely read the Herald story. There’s quite a lot. There’s Cutbirth’s claim that that a drunk Basabe groped and fondled him when he was driving Basabe home after he’d had too much to drink. Frevola alleges multiple workplace fondling incidents. There are the NDAs Basabe required both men to sign. There’s the time Basabe allegedly told Frevola and Cutbirth that he was a bottom and that they should be tops. Cutbirth had to have the gay owner of the bar where he worked part time explain to him what tops and bottoms are. There’s quite a lot.
For our purposes though it’s what looks very much like a clumsy cover-up by state House leaders that is the real story. The outside law firm, Allen Norton & Blue, allegedly declined to look at the sexual harassment claims citing the “narrow scope” of the investigation but then said in their report, which mentioned none of the sexual assault allegations, that their investigators were “not limited in their inquiry in any manner by House leadership.”
In the wake of the lawsuit, Florida Republican House leaders have now brought in a new law firm to conduct a “thorough” investigation into what it calls the “new allegation” of sexual harassment and fondling which was “brought forward after the completion.” But according to his attorney, Frevola made his allegations in the spring and discussed the claims in detail in a May phone call with investigators. Investigators asked if he’d repeat the claims in a sworn statement but Frevola never heard back from them.
These are all allegations of course, albeit based on a decent amount of evidence. The evidence that the harassment allegations were raised months ago with the firm appears very strong. What it sounds like is that the Renner arranged a white wash investigation, ignored the harassment allegations or told the law firm to ignore them and now everyone’s running for cover in the face of the public allegations and lawsuit. In a statement released to the Herald, a spokesman for the state House says “the Florida House has a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.”
There’s no evidence Gov. DeSantis was involved in the apparent cover-up or knew anything about the harassment. But Renner, the ally who pushed through the campaign-driven legislative agenda DeSantis is now running on, is directly implicated. So DeSantis’s reaction to these events is certainly relevant and he doesn’t appear to have addressed them in any way.