A second investigation into claims of impropriety against Miami Beach Rep. Fabián Basabe ended similarly as the first, with a finding of “no evidence” of wrongdoing by the freshman lawmaker.
Marlene Quintana of the law firm GrayRobinson, which the House hired to conduct the probe, said she was unable to substantiate any sexual harassment or battery accusations two former employees lodged against Basabe in July.
She was also unable to confirm that Basabe, 45, violated any law or House policy, or that he retaliated against the ex-employees, former aide Nick Frevola, 26, and former intern Jacob Cutbirth, 24.
“That said, Rep. Basabe likely should exercise better judgment regarding observing the delicate margins between the personal and the professional with his subordinates (and their friends) in the future,” she wrote in a 10-page Nov. 6 summary.
Basabe, who has maintained he is innocent of any misconduct, echoed that sentiment but said he does “not hold a grudge” against his accusers.
“Moving forward, I should use better judgment in choosing who I allow access into my professional life, a lesson I have learned since embracing public service and a political journey,” he said in a statement.
“Before, friends were friends — loyal and unwavering. I was let down by two young men who began their careers on the wrong foot and ultimately with ill intentions for personal gain, in my opinion. I hope that others too will learn from this very unnecessary episode.”
Cindy Myers, a lawyer representing Frevola and Cutbirth in a pending lawsuit over the matter in Leon County, said Quintana ignored evidence and failed to speak with key witnesses in order to reach the conclusion House leadership preferred.
“We’re not surprised that the report comes to this conclusion,” she told Florida Politics on Thursday. “What we are surprised about is the shoddiness of the report and the key documents being left out of it and not referenced at all. … But there’s still going to be a full airing in court before a jury.”
Accusations and findings
Frevola and Cutbirth claim Basabe engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment and unwanted touching during their short time working for him. In their lawsuit, they accuse him of making repeated sexual comments and advances toward them. On three occasions, they said he either slapped, groped or tried to kiss them.
In a separate complaint, Frevola also accused Basabe of slapping him in the face during a January post-election party in Tallahassee. A law firm the House hired to investigate the incident determined in June that while there was physical contact between the two men, there was “inconclusive” evidence to substantiate Frevola’s version of the story.
That alleged incident is cited in the lawsuit among several others, including Frevola’s claim that Basabe slapped his backside and said, “I want all of that butt,” during a visit to North Beach Elementary School and that Basabe tried to kiss Cutbirth in a hotel room after the intern drove him home the first night they met.
Both accused the Representative of showing them pornographic images on his phone and making sexually explicit comments to them on more than one occasion.
Quintana said her attempts to corroborate those and other statements through witness interviews yielded no concrete evidence. Two people to whom Frevola referred Quintana refused to speak with her. Myers said there were several other witnesses Frevola and Cutbirth told Quintana about whom the investigator did not contact.
Quintana wrote that Basabe was “forthcoming in his responses” during the inquiry. Frevola was “very pleasant” during an initial interview but “became a bit defensive and confrontational” as she “tried to focus on relevant allegations.”
Cutbirth, she said, “seemed very credible, but there is simply no independent corroboration for any of his allegations.”
“Moreover, even assuming them to be true, Mr. Cutbirth and Rep. Basabe interacted in the office fewer than 10 days total (if that) for a couple of hours per day, and Mr. Cutbirth does not allege that any inappropriate conversations or actions occurred outside the office while he was an intern,” she wrote.
Quintana’s report reveals Frevola and Basabe had a more-than-professional relationship. The two attended parties, music festivals and Art Basel together. In a text message Quintana obtained that Frevola sent Feb. 15, a month after the alleged face-slapping incident, Frevola told Basabe, “I know I made the right decision to work for you.” Another text Basabe produced showed Frevola telling his then-boss that he loved him.
Frevola also lived briefly at one of Basabe’s homes during his House employment. It was for that reason, Basabe said, that he had Frevola sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) — something his legislative aide, Adrian Gonzalez, whom Quintana interviewed, was not asked to do.
Basabe asked Cutbirth to also sign an NDA, Quintana wrote, after finding out Frevola took him to an apartment the Representative owns.
‘A mission to undermine’
According to Myers, the unspoken goal of Quintana’s investigation from its onset was to deflect negative attention from the House and Basabe while absolving the chamber and its members of culpability.
It’s no coincidence, she said, that Speaker Paul Renner’s Office hired GrayRobinson, which she called “one of the biggest employment defense firms in the state.”
“These people make their living defending employers and employment lawsuits, so generally what they do is they make a finding for the employer that they can wave around and say, ‘See, we did our part. We had an investigation done, and there’s no evidence anything bad happened,’” she said. “This is not a legal standard by any means.”
Florida Politics contacted Renner’s Office but received no response by press time.
Myers said Quintana did not interview any outside witnesses except Gonzalez and a few elementary school employees who said they saw no inappropriate touching between Basabe and Frevola.
People Quintana could have interviewed but didn’t speak with during the investigation included Carl Bengston, a part-time employer of Cutbirth with whom he discussed issues with Basabe, and friends of Cutbirth to whom he sent contemporaneous texts about being sexually harassed.
Myers shared screenshots of those texts and others between Cutbirth and Frevola with Florida Politics. They can be viewed below.
In her report, Quintana said she only received one text message screenshot between Frevola and Cutbirth “after months of requests.” Regarding Bengston and Cutbirth’s friends, she said they “had no direct knowledge of any of the incidents in question … and would have only reported hearsay from Mr. Cutbirth, (so) I chose not to interview them.”
Myers said the report makes it look like Quinata “was on a mission to undermine Nick as a person and his testimony.” Cutbirth, she said, didn’t want to get involved in the issue but ultimately decided to after learning he was going to be named in Frevola’s complaint and because he didn’t want what happened to him to happen to someone else.
“Finally, Jacob was like, ‘This guy has to be held accountable. He’s got no business being a state Representative, and I’m going to do what I can to expose what he’s done to me to make sure he can’t continue to do this,’” she said. “This is something women have dealt with since the dawn of time. Sexual harassers don’t usually do it in the sunshine and in front of other people or in front of cameras. They do it behind the scenes.”
Odds and ends
Basabe has been a magnet for negative attention during his first year in elected office. Critics have decried his votes for bills targeting the LGBTQ community, including an expansion to legislation critics called 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.
Basabe won the seat representing House District 106, a historically Democratic-leaning coastal area in Miami-Dade County, by just 242 votes in what many consider the biggest election upset for state office in the 2022 Midterms.
Running a mostly self-funded campaign, Basabe narrowly outpaced former Bay Harbor Islands Mayor Jordan Leonard to succeed outgoing Democratic Rep. Joe Geller in House District 106 — despite resurfaced reports of alleged racist remarks Basabe made during Miami’s annual Art Basel event and an altercation with a neighbor that led to his capture by the U.S. Marshals Service’s Fugitive Task Force in 2020.
Basabe’s lawyer, Gus Harper, said he and his client are unsurprised by the outcome of Quintana’s investigation and called the accusations by Frevola and Cutbirth “baseless” and “patently false.”
“While we disagree with some of the factual suggestions contained in Ms. Quintana’s investigative findings, we are nevertheless grateful for (her) level of professionalism, objectivity, attention to detail, and unwillingness to waiver,” he said.
Basabe said, “My focus remains, first and foremost, on the interests of my constituents and the well-being of my district.”
He faces a challenge next year from former Rep. Joe Saunders, a Democrat and the senior political director of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida.
Frevola, meanwhile, has another lawsuit active in Leon County against Windermere Rep. Carolina Amesty for accusing him of trying to run her over with a car. Frevola’s mother, Janette Frevola, ran unsuccessfully against Amesty in last year’s Republican Primary.