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Title IX report states intern 'more believable' than LeVota, according to KC Star

Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence

Updated 5:26 p.m., July 24 - It appears that the University of Central Missouri is siding with one of its students over allegations that she was sexually harassed by State Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, while working for him as an intern earlier this year.

According to the Kansas City Star, AlissaHembree gave the newspaper a copy of the Title IX report compiled by the university, and the Star article says that the report "concludes that her version" of events "is more believable than his denial."

UCM spokesman Jeff Murphy told St. Louis Public Radio that the university does not publicly release Title IX reports, but he did say that the "parties involved ... have the right to decide if they want to release it themselves."

Hembree alleges that LeVota propositioned her for sex after a lobbyist event on Jan. 26 and that her refusal led to a hostile work environment.

LeVota has denied the allegations and said Wednesday that the Senate’s investigation found no proof of wrongdoing.  But on Thursday, Senate leader removed him from the ethics committee after a second intern came forward and alleged that LeVota pressured her for sex five years ago.

On Thursday, one of his Democratic colleagues said that if the allegations are true, LeVota should step down. And the top Republican in the Missouri Senate is referring the accusations to an ethics committee.

The Senate's administration committee authorized the investigation, hiring both an outside investigator and authorizing an inquiry by Senate Administrator Marga Hoelscher.

Most of the details come from the outside investigator, attorney Jim Nowogrocki, and center around a complaint filed by a former intern, who is not named, but is said to be a student from the University of Central Missouri.

In her complaint, she claimed that:

  1. She "experienced a pattern of sexual harassment (that included) unwelcome text messages and explicit requests for sexual activity."
  2. "After reporting the unwelcome sexual misconduct displayed by the senator to his chief of staff, the student intern was subject to retaliation."

Text messages, 'unwanted advances' and 'retaliation'

According to Nowogrocki's report, the intern received "ongoing text messages" from LeVota in January that were not sexual in nature, but "possessive," some asking her whereabouts during non-work hours. According to the report, the intern described the content of some his texts as saying "perfect and beautiful," and "we are secret friends."

However, the report also said that the intern does not have any of the text messages, having recently changed cell phones, and that none of the texts in question could be recovered.

Nowogrocki's report also says that LeVota "has denied sending any inappropriate text messages to the student intern" and that he did not have any texts available for the investigation. It also said that LeVota wouldn't allow his cell phone to undergo a forensic examination as part of the investigation.

The intern also claimed that on Jan. 26, LeVota made two unwanted requests "for sexual activity" following a visit to Gumbo Bottoms, a downtown Jefferson City bar two blocks from the Missouri Capitol. She said that LeVota advised her not to drive back to Fulton because she had consumed a few drinks and so she drove herself to his duplex in Jefferson City.

In the report, she said that LeVota offered her a glass of wine and made "derogatory statements about her boyfriend."  She also alleged that LeVota twice said, "If you want to sleep with me tonight, I won't tell you 'no.'" After telling him "no," he "apologized and continued acting in a flirtatious manner."  She said that she slept on the couch at LeVota's duplex but said "there was no physical contact between them."

LeVota denied in the report that the intern was ever inside his duplex.

Nowogrocki's report also included the intern's account of what she described as retaliation -- including "being shunned by the senator, her removal from one-on-one projects, her no longer receiving assignments concerning proposed rape-kit legislation, and being subjected to derogatory name calling."

LeVota's response

Within two hours of the report's release, LeVota provided the following statement to St. Louis Public Radio:

I just now received the Senate investigator’s report and want to formally respond to it. Today's independent Senate investigator's report reinforces that these are only allegations made against me, are unfounded, and that there is no proof of wrong doing. I willingly cooperated with Senate investigators during this process, and it bears repeating what I told the investigators when I was interviewed.  At no time did I act inappropriately, through text messages or in person, with this intern or anyone else. I never asked her to do anything inappropriate; I never contacted her after hours, I never made sexual advances toward her, and neither I nor anyone on my staff ever retaliated against her in any way. Given the Missouri Senate's strong commitment to preventing sexual harassment, I am confident that if there had been any evidence to support these allegations, the Senate would have acted swiftly to impose appropriate actions. While I am deeply disappointed in the allegations, I am gratified that the independent Senate investigators did not find them to be supported by any evidence and I look forward to returning to work for the people of Missouri.

'We just can’t tolerate this kind of behavior in Jefferson City from anybody of any party'

Fallout against LeVota continued on Thursday. Gov. Jay Nixon released the following statement on the LeVota accusations: 

“Even as facts continue to emerge, the allegations against Sen. LeVota to date are deeply troubling and raise serious questions about his ability to continue to serve his constituents. Sexual harassment must not be tolerated.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent out a statement: “Two young women have come forward with serious allegations against Senator Paul LeVota, some of which have been corroborated by evidence of text messages. I believe Senator LeVota needs to seriously consider whether he can continue to serve.”

Dempsey announced he was referring the allegations to the Senate Ethics Committee for "deliberation, investigation, and recommendations to the full Senate on the matter." It's possible that the committee could recommend expulsion.  

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said a Kansas City Star article where two of LeVota's interns came forward by name "gave her pause."
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said a Kansas City Star article where two of LeVota's interns came forward by name "gave her pause."

"The Missouri Senate takes very seriously matters involving the public trust," Dempsey said. "To make sure that we have a fair and full investigation of allegations which have now surfaced, I have asked and Minority Floor Leader Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, has agreed to remove [LeVota] from the Rules and Ethics Committee."

Keaveny released a statement confirming that he removed LeVota from the Ethics Committee and replaced him with himself. He went onto say "since the time that the report of the investigation has been released, numerous new allegations have been made."

“The membership of the Senate Democratic Caucus and I take these allegations very seriously," Keaveny said. "Accusations like these should be treated in a manner that is fair and just to both the accused and the accuser.  Everyone deserves to feel safe in their work environment."

Before Dempsey released his statement, one of LeVota's Democratic colleagues -- state Sen. Jill Schupp -- suggested he should resign if the accusations are true.  

Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said she read a Kansas City Star article detailing the accusations of two of LeVota's former interns. Both interns allowed the newspaper to use their names. And one of LeVota's interns from 2010 showed the newspaper screenshots of a text message exchange.

"First of all, it’s not allegations from one person; it’s from more than one person," Schupp said in a telephone interview. "And there is some evidence that I haven’t seen certainly that I don’t know if the senator has seen. But if evidence exists that shows screenshots that indicate these conversations happened via text, then certainly the senator needs to answer to those. And if any of these allegations either prove to be true or they are true, the senator needs to step down."

Schupp said the fact that two of LeVota's interns stepped forward "gives me a lot of pause." She added that the legislature shouldn't get "into a position where this kind of behavior is acceptable or ignored or swept under the rug."

"We just can’t tolerate this kind of behavior in Jefferson City from anybody of any party," Schupp said. "If he knows [the allegations] to be true, he needs to step down."

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.