Democratic strategist accused of sexually assaulting woman while working for Mike Bloomberg's campaign days after 9/11

  • A photographer accused Democratic strategist Duane Baughman of sexual assault.

  • In a new lawsuit, she alleges he assaulted her while working on Mike Bloomber's 2001 mayoral campaign.

  • Baughman filed his own lawsuit against her in June, saying she's run "a 20+ year smear campaign" against him.

Just three days after 9/11, Petra C. Beter — who had lived in downtown Manhattan and was still shaken by the destruction of the Twin Towers — was picked up in a car by a top staffer for Michael Bloomberg, according to a new lawsuit.

Duane Baughman, a lead media strategist for Bloomberg's 2001 New York City mayoral campaign, had pestered Beter for days, trying to get her to take photos of the candidate, her lawsuit alleged.

Making their way through the city's streets, many of which were still shut down, they took a long time to arrive at Bloomberg's campaign office, the suit says.

Another one of Bloomberg's campaign staffers offered Beter a cup of coffee at the office, the lawsuit says. Opting instead for a Diet Coke, Beter bent down to look for one on the bottom shelf of the office fridge, according to her suit.

At that point, Baughman suddenly grabbed Beter's head " and pushed his crotch into the right side of her face," her lawsuit alleges. Beter "felt Baughman's penis push into her face, close to her mouth," according to the suit.

"Baughman pushed Plaintiff's head toward him like he wanted her to perform oral sex and said, 'You want it,'" the lawsuit alleges.

Beter says that Baughman then pushed her to the floor and "got on top of her," only stopping when she screamed.

Beter made the allegations against Baughman in a lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan state court. She filed it under the Adult Survivors Act — a law that allows plaintiffs in New York to bring sexual misconduct lawsuits that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations — which is set to expire on November 24.

"The ASA was signed into law because it can take time for victims of sexual abuse to come forward," Ian Bryson, an attorney for Beter, told Business Insider. "Now Ms. Beter is finally able to hold her abuser accountable."

Baughman has long denied these allegations, and even filed a lawsuit against Beter and her sister, Josee Beter, in Massachusetts federal court over he summer. He called the allegations "unequivocally false" and said he "has never sexually assaulted anyone."

The lawsuit, which includes his business partner Katie Merrill as a plaintiff, alleges the sisters defamed him with "a 20+ year smear campaign" by shopping around the allegations to different media outlets and his political advisory firms' clients.

"This baseless, retaliatory lawsuit, filed six months after Mr. Baughman's suit against Ms. Beter to address her two decades of vicious and defamatory accusations, is a desperate last-gasp attempt to bolster her spurious claims, which we will vigorously address in court," a representative for Baughman's lawyers at Brown Rudnick told Business Insider. "Mr. Baughman continues to stand on the side of truth."

Baughman claims Beter is running a yearslong smear campaign

Beter was driven by greed, demanding more than $250,000 for less than one day's work on Bloomberg's campaign, the lawsuit alleges.

"When Petra's excessive demands for additional compensation went ignored and unmet by Baughman, Petra decided to take revenge, and thus began her smear campaign which years later morphed into her fictionalized accusations of sexual assault," Baughman's lawsuit says.

Beter's lawsuit also suggests two other Bloomberg advisors — consultant Douglas Schoen and now-Citigroup executive Edward Skyler — may have been aware that Baughman did something wrong.

At a meeting later, Schoen asked Beter, "Did Duane do something to you? What did Duane do to you?" according to Beter's lawsuit, before instructing her not to "tell anyone about this."

"Defendant SCHOEN then angrily said, 'I told him not to touch you.' Look, this kind of thing happens all the time," the lawsuit says. "He's (meaning BAUGHMAN) has done this kind of thing before."

Mitchell Jackson, a representative for Schoen, said the allegations "are inaccurate and completely false." A representative for Skyler denied the allegations as well.

"Mr. Skyler never witnessed the incident described in the complaint and vehemently denies these allegations," Skyler's representative told Business Insider.

Petra Beter world trade center collapse photo
A photo of the World Trade Center collapse taken by Petra Beter on September 11, 2001.REUTERS/Petra Beter SB/HB

Baughman's lawsuit offers a slightly different timeline than the account in Beter's lawsuit. It says they spent time together more than two weeks after 9/11, not in the immediate aftermath, and that "they were in public the entire afternoon and never alone," surrounded by Bloomberg's campaign staffers and consultants. Their single interaction "was brief and strictly professional," his lawsuit says.

In the years since Baughman worked for Bloomberg's 2001 mayoral campaign, he has gone on to work for numerous other Democratic campaigns, including Hillary Clinton's 2006 re-election campaign for the US Senate in New York, her 2008 presidential campaign, and Tom Steyer's 2020 presidential campaign. Merrill has worked for Rep. Barbara Lee's current US Senate race in California. his lawsuit says that Beters emailed those campaigns, demanding them to fire the strategists.

According to a 2012 New York Post article, a lawyer for Mike Bloomberg referred Petra's alleged threats to SDNY prosecutors in 2008. That NY Post article is cited in Baughman's June 2023 lawsuit. Prosecutors never brought charges.

Neither Petra nor Josee Beter has filed a formal response to Baughman's lawsuit in the Massachusetts court, though Petra Beter's lawsuit says it's "retaliation" for her claims. Court filings reviewed by Business Insider show that Baughman's legal team — which includes attorneys who represented Johnny Depp in his defamation and battery lawsuits with Amber Heard — say they have not been able to find the sisters to serve them with Baughman's suit.

Josee Beter couldn't be reached for comment.

Bryson told Business Insider that Baughman's defamation lawsuit was part of a strategy to get ahead of her Adult Survivors Act case.

"Regarding the defamation case, too often it is a tactic of defendants in sexual assault cases to preemptively sue their accusers for defamation and we strive to put an end to this practice," he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider