Allegations in Giuliani lawsuit could lead to criminal investigations, experts say

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani speaking at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, Nov. 19, 2020. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The explosive new allegations against former New York City mayor and Donald Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani could expose him to criminal liability, experts say.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday in New York, Noelle Dunphy alleged that Giuliani only paid her $12,000 out of a promised $2 million for her work as his business development director and public relations consultant from 2019 to 2021, and he made performing sex acts “an absolute requirement of her employment.”

“The case might well prompt law enforcement to open an investigation,” Duncan Levin, a New York City-based criminal defense attorney, told Yahoo News.

Giuliani’s legal team has “unequivocally denied” the allegations, which have not yet been substantiated with evidence.

Reached for comment for this story, Giuliani adviser Ted Goodman said, “News outlets covering this story must include the fact that an ex-partner of Ms. Dunphy filed suit accusing Ms. Dunphy of taking part in, ‘prior schemes to defraud high net-worth men,’ and the same ex-partner says Ms. Dunphy bragged about ‘extorting $5 million’ from the son of a prominent Wall Street businessman.”

The allegations

Dunphy alleges that Giuliani — who was then working as former President Trump’s personal lawyer — said her payment had to be deferred because he did not want his ex-wife Judith, with whom he was going through a divorce, to find out about Dunphy’s employment.

Dunphy’s complaint claims that Giuliani groped her on her first day of work and that he forced her to perform oral sex after entering her guest suite at his Manhattan apartment uninvited, after which he exposed himself and grabbed her hair. She also alleges that he claimed not to have money to pay her while living a lavish lifestyle, and that he made frequent sexist, racist and homophobic remarks.

Notably, she claims he offered to sell presidential pardons, about which allegations have previously surfaced.

Noelle Dunphy
Noelle Dunphy at a New York City event on Oct. 21, 2022. (Michael Ostuni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

“He also asked Ms. Dunphy if she knew anyone in need of a pardon, telling her that he was selling pardons for $2 million, which he and President Trump would split,” the complaint alleges. “He told Ms. Dunphy that she could refer individuals seeking pardons to him, so long as they did not go through ‘the normal channels’ of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, because correspondence going to that office would be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.” (Dunphy’s complaint says she has recordings of Giuliani making some of the alleged remarks, but she has not released them.)

Could any of that constitute a crime?

There are three potential areas of criminal investigation, according to Manhattan-based criminal law experts.

Sexual assault. “The allegations of forcing her to perform sexual acts against her will could absolutely be considered sexual assault under New York law,” Levin said. “Sexual assault refers to engaging in non-consensual sexual conduct.”

Coercing someone into a sex act is not a crime in New York, even though it may constitute sexual harassment and create civil liability, unless it involves physical force.

“Sexual assault requires forcible compulsion,” Cheryl Bader, who teaches criminal law at Fordham University School of Law, told Yahoo News in an email. “Manipulation and emotional coercion are not enough, but the complaint alleges an encounter that involved holding onto her hair to force oral sex—which could constitute forcible compulsion.”

Selling pardons. Although such cases can be hard to build, if Giuliani participated in a scheme to sell presidential pardons, it could be a crime.

“The allegation of offering to sell pardons for a monetary sum would likely raise serious legal concerns and potentially be investigated for various offenses,” Levin said. “This could include potential federal crimes such as bribery or corruption, as well as state-level offenses.”

In recent years, the Supreme Court has narrowed the definition of bribery or corruption, making securing decisions more difficult.

“Selling pardons would constitute public corruption, but a prosecutor would need more evidence than Dunphy’s allegation that Giuliani said he was selling pardons,” Bader said.

Nonpayment of wages. This is the least likely to pose a serious legal risk to Giuliani, even if Dunphy produces significant evidence. Although Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg recently created a “Worker’s Protection Unit” to combat wage theft, stealing wages isn’t considered larceny in New York. It is sometimes prosecuted as “scheme to defraud,” which is the lowest-level felony in the state. (A recently introduced bill in the state Legislature would amend New York’s grand larceny statutes to include wage theft.)

Bader noted that “prosecutors tend to shy away from prosecuting civil contract disputes, even when the dispute might involve an aspect of fraud.”