- Al Frevola
- Allen Norton & Blue
- Art Basel
- Carl Benston
- CBS News Miami
- Cynthia Myers
- David Axelman
- Debbie Mayfield
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Fabian Basabe
- Fugitive Task Force
- Governor;s Club
- Janette Frevola
- Karis Lockhart
- Marie Mattox
- Martina Borgomanero
- Miami Herald
- Michael Mattimore
- Nicolas Frevola
- Robert Fernandez
- sexual harassment
- The Southern Group
- U.S. Marshals Service
Two men who worked briefly for Miami Beach Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe are suing the freshman lawmaker for battery and defamation following what they describe as a pattern of sexual harassment and unwanted touching.
Former staffer Nicolas Frevola, 25, and former intern Jacob Cutbirth, 24, filed the lawsuit in a Leon County Court, where Cutbirth lives.
Frevola’s mother, Janette Frevola, a former executive secretary in the Office of General Counsel for the Florida House, is also party to the suit, which seeks more than $100,000 in damages. She unsuccessfully ran for a Florida House seat representing Orange County last year.
The lawsuit accuses Basabe, 45, of making repeated sexual comments and advances toward the two men. On three occasions, the suit says, Basabe either slapped, groped or tried to kiss them.
It also repeats an accusation by Frevola earlier this year that Basabe slapped him across the face during a private post-inauguration party in early January. An outside law firm investigating the matter for the House determined last week there was “inconclusive” evidence to confirm the incident occurred as Frevola claimed. The lawsuit and communications by Al Frevola contend the investigation was far from thorough.
The lawsuit also says Frevola and Cutbirth are filing additional charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of sexual harassment, and that Frevola is filing a charge of retaliation and a whistleblower claim. That charge pertains “not only to the sexual harassment engaged upon Nicolas Frevola and Cutbirth,” the suit says, but also against past and “ongoing sexual harassment” of two other friends of Frevola’s, both of whom allegedly signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) at Basabe’s direction.
Basabe denies he acted inappropriately with Frevola or Cutbirth. Last week, he told CBS News Miami, which first reported on the alleged face-slapping incident in April, that the investigation “cleared him.”
Robert Fernandez, an attorney representing Basabe, called the lawsuit “frivolous and meritless” in a statement provided to the Herald and CBS.
“Rep. Basabe looks forward to defending himself in court,” he said, “and we believe he will be vindicated once these allegations are scrutinized under the rule of law.”
Nicolas Frevola and his mother are jointly seeking legal damages for defamation over an acidic statement Basabe posted to Twitter shortly after publication of the “inconclusive” House investigation concluded.
Frevola is also lodging two accusations of battery — one for the alleged face-slapping incident and another in which Frevola claims Basabe slapped his behind while the two were visiting an elementary school for career day.
Cutbirth is seeking battery damages as well and accuses Basabe of grabbing, groping and trying to kiss him when Cutbirth gave him a ride home from a bar in mid-December, before he began interning for him.
The suit is the latest and perhaps worst mark in a cavalcade of negative attention Basabe, a wealthy socialite-turned-politician, has received since winning election last year by just 242 votes in what many considered the biggest upset for state office in the 2022 Midterms.
Critics have since decried his votes for bills targeting the LGBTQ community, of which he’s said he is a member, including an expansion to the a measure critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law restricting LGBTQ-inclusive classroom instruction and a currently halted measure known colloquially as Florida’s “anti-drag” legislation.
He has also faced sharp criticism for abstaining from voting on a measure banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and for voting in favor of a soon-effective law eliminating the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed firearm.
The lawsuit alleges Basabe was persistently inappropriate with Cutbirth and Frevola in and outside of the office and made unwanted advances on both men.
The first such incident occurred Dec. 14, the lawsuit says, when Cutbirth first met Bassabe and Frevola at a Tallahassee bar and was asked later that night to drive the Representative back to his hotel because he’d been drinking.
During the drive, the suit says Basabe “began to physically touch and grope (Cutbirth) and to grab at him to try to kiss him.” Cutbirth says he “repeatedly told Basabe to stop touching him” and refused an invitation to come up to his hotel room.
Six days later, Basabe and Frevola were visiting North Beach Elementary School for a career day event. While the two were standing in the back of a classroom, the suit says Basabe told Frevola, “I want all of that butt,” before slapping his backside with his hand.
The incident in which Frevola accused Basabe of slapping him in the face at an evening post-inauguration party at a lobbying firm in Tallahassee took place four days later, on Jan. 3. According to the suit, Basabe had been drinking since that morning and walked up to Frevola to ask if a woman standing next to him, Karis Lockhart, a lobbyist for The Southern Group, was the same woman Frevola had “slept with” a few weeks earlier.
Frevola and Lockhart both said no, after which Basabe allegedly said, “Oh, so you’re cheating,” and slapped Frevola in the face before telling Frevola to stand in the corner of the room. Frevola, “taken aback, and out of fear of additional confrontation,” complied, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit references a supposed NDA Frevola previously said Basabe required him to sign as part of his employment. Basabe in April denied knowing his government employees were being asked to sign NDAs, but last week told the Herald they are “a pretty standard thing” and “something personal” he asks of employees that “has nothing to do with Tallahassee.”
The lawsuit says that because Basabe “wrongfully forced” Frevola to sign an NDA, Frevola refrained initially from reporting the incident to Republican Party leadership in the House.
On Jan. 24, Cutbirth accepted an offer to work in Basabe’s office as a part-time intern. The lawsuit says Cutbirth considered it “an apology for the offensive touching and comments” Basabe allegedly made the month prior. But after just one week of working there, the suit says Basabe told Cutbirth he “needed to flirt with him” while he was in the office and sign an NDA. Cutbirth signed the NDA.
From there, the lawsuit says Basabe used increasingly lewd and suggestive language with Frevola and Cutbirth, including referring to Cutbirth as “eye candy” in front of others in the office, showing them a “photograph of a naked man” on his phone, repeated instructions to flirt with him and telling Cutbirth he shouldn’t marry his “girlfriend/fiancée” because the marriage would never last and that Cutbirth should explore his sexuality by having sex with men.”
The suit says Basabe also told Frevola and Cutbirth they should “try sport f**king,” a slang term for casual, uncommitted sex.
The lawsuit says Frevola and Cutbirth exchanged text messages to talk about Basabe’s behavior.
Basabe has been married for 15 years to Martina Borgomanero, the heiress of the La Perla lingerie fortune, with whom he has a teenage son. He is a self-described “devoted family man.” He has also said he’s be a member of the LGBTQ community.
Carl Bengston, the owner of the LGBTQ-friendly 926 Bar and Grill in Tallahassee where Cutbirth worked part-time while interning for Basabe, told the Herald that Cutbirth had spoken with him on several occasions about the Representative and his alleged actions.
He said Cutbirth at first believed the job would be “great for his future,” but matters declined quickly, and some things Cutbirth said Basabe had told him “raised a bunch of red flags” for Bengston, who is gay.
“I’ve met people I would refer to as predatory,” he said. “What I was hearing from Jacob in some of these comments was sounding like he was dealing with a person that I would describe as predatory.”
Vero Beach Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield, whom Cutbirth briefly worked for in 2021, told the Herald she “never experienced any issues or problems where he was not telling the truth or being honest.”
Basabe has faced past accusations of making racist remarks during Miami’s annual Art Basel event and in 2020 was taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service’s Fugitive Task Force after crossing state lines following an altercation with a neighbor.
He’s also being sued in Miami-Dade County court for allegedly failing to uphold his end of an investment deal involving classic 1990s-era Land Rovers.
The first investigation
On March 7, the lawsuit says Basabe suggested the Frevola and Cutbirth should be “tops,” a colloquial term denoting the dominant partner in male homosexual pairings, and that he was “a bottom” and “liked to have anal sex.”
The same day, while walking with Cutbirth to the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee, the lawsuit says Basabe inquired about the size of Cutbirth’s genitals.
Cutbirth left Basabe’s office later that day, texted some friends in a group chat to tell them he’d been sexually harassed and spoke to at least one on the phone about Basabe’s alleged actions. He never returned.
On April 5, an unnamed state Senator who’d learned of the alleged face-slapping incident urged Frevola to file an official report. Frevola and his mother met soon after with the Senator and filed the report but expressed concern about media exposure, “the embarrassment it could cause them” and asked that news outlets not be told of the report.
Several days passed, the lawsuit says, and after the Frevolas heard nothing about their complaint, they followed up with the House Human Resources Department and again reported the alleged battery. Within hours, members of the press contacted Frevola for comment. He later learned that the Senator who promised the complaint would be confidential was the source of the leaked story, the lawsuit says.
As Florida Politics reported, the House retained the law firm Allen Norton & Blue to investigate Frevola’s complaint. Michael Mattimore, managing partner of the firm’s Tallahassee office, led the probe, speaking with several witnesses Frevola said could confirm Basabe slapped him in the face at the party.
In a summary of the inquiry sent June 28 to House General Counsel David Axelman, Mattimore said he interviewed “all individuals identified by Frevola as potential witnesses” except for one person unspecified by Mattimore and two interns, whom Frevola could not name — and whom another witness said was not there. None said they witnesses any physical contact between the two men.
Basabe was the only person to acknowledge an altercation occurred, telling Mattimore May 3 that he approached Frevola and one of the lobbyists Mattimore later interviewed, but that it was Frevola who “initiated unwanted, nonviolent, physical contact with him” to which he responded by slapping away Frevola’s hand “and may have made contact with him.”
“Upon interviewing the witnesses brought forth by the complainant, the investigation into the allegation of this incident was inconclusive,” Mattimore said.
A new, “thorough” investigation
Frevola and Cutbirth’s attorneys say they told investigators about Basabe’s alleged sexual harassment but were told the probe’s “narrow scope” didn’t extend beyond the face-slapping accusation. As the Herald noted, that was in spite of a footnote in the three-page report that stated investigators were “not limited in their inquiry in any manner by House leadership.”
Soon after the Allen Norton & Blue report was made public, Basabe posted a lengthy tweet claiming vindication, calling the slapping accusation “false” and describing Frevola as a “generally lazy, entitled, unscrupulous, self involved, ungrateful, lying scum.” He claimed Frevola and his mother “have a reported history of lawsuits against anyone who they think can and will pay.”
Those words could come back to bite Basabe, depending on the outcome of the civil suit.
Reporters from the Herald and CBS asked Basabe for proof to support his claim, “but he did not provide any examples.” Neither an attorney for the Frevolas nor a review of court filings the news outlets conducted found record of any such “reported history” of frivolous litigation.
In an email to Allen Norton & Blue and Axelman, Al Frevola decried “the absolute failure of the process and the significant shortcomings of your ‘investigation’ and ‘findings.’”
He attached a five-page written statement by Nicolas Frevola detailing the alleged pattern of sexual harassment and battery. Frevola had offered, at the request of investigators, to repeat those claims in a sworn statement while the investigation was ongoing, his lawyers said, but never heard back from them before the report’s release.
A Florida House spokesperson told the Herald that a “new allegation” had been “brought forth after the completion” of the inquiry into the alleged slapping incident. They confirmed that an unspecified outside law firm, but not Allen Norton & Blue, will conduct a “thorough” probe of the sexual harassment accusations.
In a Thursday statement, Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried called the alleged actions detailed in the lawsuit “shocking and vile.” She said House Republicans should have done more the “moment the first allegations” against him arose and called for his immediate resignation or expulsion.
“If true, both Rep. Basabe and the House Leadership owe restitution to these staffers and an apology to the people of Florida. As a society, we should have zero tolerance for sexual harassment directed towards any person of any gender,” she said.
“The moment the first allegations against Basabe were made, the Republican House Majority Office should have acted swiftly. Instead, staffers were left in situations where an alleged predator could continue to harass and assault them.”