Attorney says Cuomo adviser fired him for cooperating in probe

ALBANY — An attorney who worked for Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration claims he was fired last year for his cooperation in a state attorney general’s investigation that sustained multiple sexual harassment allegations against the former governor.

The 40-year-old attorney, Craig Herskowitz, worked at the U.S. Department of Justice before joining Cuomo’s office in December 2019 as an assistant counsel.

In a notice of claim filed against the Executive Chamber in September, Herskowitz said that Beth Garvey, who had been Cuomo’s top counsel and senior adviser, notified him on Aug. 12 that he was being terminated from his job after it was determined that remarks he had made nine days earlier to a 25-year-old female colleague constituted sexual harassment.

But in his claim, Herskowitz alleges his firing was payback for testimony he gave last April, when he met with investigators from the attorney general’s office and described a “toxic environment” in the Executive Chamber; he also corroborated statements by Charlotte Bennett, one of several female aides who had accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.

Garvey had assigned Paul Fishman, an executive counsel, to accompany Herskowitz during the interview. Herskowitz’s claim alleges Fishman later informed Garvey of the substance of his testimony, and he was fired as part of a “disproportionate response … in retaliation for his disloyalty.”

The allegations against Herskowitz stemmed, in part, from his conversation with the female aide on Aug. 3, when he said she “joked about being left out because she hadn’t been sexually harassed by the governor.”

Herskowitz, who worked in the governor’s New York City office, contends that he jokingly responded to the female aide’s alleged remark by telling her that she “should have testified that the governor did not sexually harass her because it might have cleared the governor’s name.”

The exchange took place the same day a scathing state attorney general’s report was released in which Cuomo was found to have sexually harassed, groped, kissed, touched or made inappropriate remarks to multiple women. Top officials in his administration were also alleged to have engaged in retaliation against at least one of the women who have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.

The attorney general’s report described a “toxic” work environment in the Executive Chamber, including allegations that any “disloyalty … would be met with attacks of a personal and professional nature” by Cuomo or senior members of his staff.

The former governor has apologized for some of his conduct but denied the most serious allegations leveled against him, including that he groped the breast of a female aide during a workplace encounter at the executive mansion in December 2020.

Cuomo has also accused Attorney General Letitia James of conducting a politically motivated investigation. At the same time, he has dismissed his admitted misconduct — including asking female staff members about their sex lives, marital status and interests in dating older men — to miscommunication due to what he recently called a “new sensitivity” in people younger than him.

Cuomo announced his resignation a week after the attorney general’s report was released — two days before Herskowitz was fired. He and senior aides from his administration have subsequently attacked the the report’s findings; Cuomo has said he regrets resigning and feels he has been “vindicated” because no prosecutors sought to pursue criminal charges against him.

Juxtaposed against the governor’s conduct, the claims by Herskowitz highlight arguably inconsistent actions of an administration that staunchly defended Cuomo but moved swiftly to fire the attorney for behavior that did not reach the level of inappropriate behavior that Cuomo has acknowledged, including frequently kissing female staff members on the cheek or hugging them.

“The interactions identified by Ms. Garvey for Mr. Herskowitz’s termination are so mild in character that any fact finder will find it easy to connect the severity of Ms. Garvey’s response to a retaliation, especially considering the chamber’s track record in that respect,” the claim states. “Simply put, the complaint involving Mr. Herskowitz’s interactions with (the female colleague) gave Ms. Garvey the opportunity to retaliate against Mr. Herskowitz for his perceived disloyalty to Gov. Cuomo.”

Herskowitz asserts that Garvey terminated him both for his remarks to the 25-year-old aide last August and for asking for her phone number on a prior occasion. Garvey said those actions constituted “sexual harassment” and that the office had a “zero tolerance” for that type of conduct, according to his claim.

Garvey on Monday declined to comment and referred questions to her successor, Elizabeth Fine, who was appointed counsel to the governor by Gov. Kathy Hochul in August. Fine could not immediately be reached for comment.

Herskowitz had previously worked at the Department of Justice and for the FBI on matters that included money laundering and asset forfeiture cases. In Cuomo’s administration, he handled taxation and financial matters, according to the governor’s announcement of his appointment to the job three years ago.

Herskowitz’s claim states that he learned of the woman’s allegations against him on Aug. 6 — three days after the release of the report prompted their conversation about Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment of women. Garvey told Herskowitz to report to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER), which is tasked with investigating sexual harassment claims involving state employees.

The claim says Herskowitz told an investigator with that office that he had requested the aide’s phone number “for work purposes while attempting to organize a prep session for an appointee on very short notice,” according to his claim. He said the investigator appeared “disinterested” in his attempts to provide “context” to the allegations against him.

According to Herskowitz, the investigator badgered him about his job title versus that of the woman who accused him of harassment. Payroll records indicate the woman had worked as an administrative assistant for the governor’s office. In her profile on LinkedIn, a business networking website, she indicates she left the governor’s office in the fall and now works at a state agency.

In recounting Herskowitz’s interview with GOER, his claim says the investigator was dismissive of his account of another workplace encounter during which he said the female employee had asked him to show her a photo of a woman he had dated, and subsequently told him that he should “hit it or quit it,” according to the notice of claim.

The claim notes that Garvey was “mentioned” in the attorney general’s report in connection with efforts by top officials in the administration to discredit Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo aide who was the first woman to make sexual harassment allegations against the governor.

Herskowitz’s claim says that Garvey’s termination letter to him included a directive that he “not contact the complainant or your colleagues about this matter as such action could subject you to further personal liability for your conduct.”

The attorneys who filed the claim on his behalf allege Garvey included that language in his termination letter in order to silence and intimidate him.

Following his termination, Herskowitz received a box from the governor’s office containing his belongings. Inside the box, on top of the belongings, were two sticky notes with handwriting on them. One of them read, “maybe you can go back to dating shows $$,” and the other stated, “you had it coming” with a drawing of a smiley face on it.

Based on the handwriting, Herskowitz alleges the notes were written by the 25-year-old woman who had accused him of sexual harassment. The Times Union is withholding her name because she is an alleged victim of sexual harassment and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Herskowitz’s claim said he was unable to obtain a copy of the final determination issued against him by GOER. His attorneys demanded the state turn over those materials as well as preserve all records that may be related to his termination, including video recordings from any security cameras at the governor’s New York City office that may have captured his interactions with the woman who accused him of harassment.

The claim states that Herskowitz was interested in a “pre-litigation resolution, including possible mediation.” His attorney, Jon Choate, declined to comment on the notice of claim.