Republican Assembly hopeful Dante Acosta defended himself Wednesday following the leak of an email from a woman writing to a third party and accusing Acosta of sexual harassment.
“The allegations against Dante Acosta are false and disproved by the Acosta campaign, which has copies of the exchanges between Mr. Acosta and his accuser,’’ Acosta’s campaign said in a lengthy statement.
“This malicious attack is motivated by an accuser who had a motive to defame Mr. Acosta in retaliation to his decision not to hire her for his campaign for State Assembly.’’
The leaked allegations were first posted on a Santa Clarita blog on Tuesday, claiming Acosta’s alleged behavior took place over a 14-month period beginning in January 2015.
A subsequent post on the blog shows a redacted private email from the accuser to a third-party acquaintance – Vanessa Wilk, the wife of Assemblyman and state Senate candidate Scott Wilk. In that email, the accuser told Mrs. Wilk that Acosta had allegedly made unwanted advances.
The email was sent on June 2, 2016, just days before the primary in which Acosta was running against Jarrod DeGonia.
Around that time, Rep. Steve Knight — for whom Acosta had worked as a field operative – was made aware of the woman’s allegations against Acosta and spoke with her, Knight’s office confirmed in a statement.
According to Acosta, Knight did not bring up the woman’s accusations with Acosta, even though Acosta was still employed by Knight’s congressional office at the time. Acosta said he left Knight’s office later in June.
Two phone calls to the accuser – whose name is being withheld by The Signal – were not returned.
Acosta is now running for the 38th Assembly District seat in the Nov. 8 election. His opponent is Democrat Christy Smith.
Vanessa Wilk, in an interview with The Signal, confirmed she was the recipient of the leaked June 2016 email from the accuser. She also said that, a few days earlier, she had received a phone call from the accuser, in which the woman made similar allegations against Acosta.
According to Vanessa Wilk, the woman, who was attached to the DeGonia campaign, alleged Acosta made “inappropriate” advances and “that he came onto her’’ in January 2015, when Acosta was in Washington D.C. for Knight’s swearing-in.
The woman, Vanessa Wilk said, was planning to go public with the allegations against Acosta ahead of the June 2016 primary.
Vanessa Wilk said she urged the woman – for the sake of Acosta’s wife – to go through channels rather than the media. She said she also questioned the accuser’s timing, telling The Signal, “I don’t know if it’s true, but it was suspect to me, the timing of the phone call. She (was attached to DeGonia’s campaign), and she has this damning statement.
“It’s not to say we shouldn’t believe women when they make accusations,’’ Vanessa Wilk added. “But you have to be careful too.’’
Acosta, in an interview with The Signal separate from his news release, said that when he was in Washington for Knight’s January 2015 swearing-in, he was not yet employed by the congressman – that stint began in March 2015 and ended when Acosta began his run for Assembly earlier this year.
He said the woman was also in Washington, on her own, which is where the two met.
“We had a completely, 100 percent professional relationship, like I have with every woman I have interaction with,’’ Acosta told The Signal, regarding the woman.
In addition, he said, there was a six-month gap in texts between him and his accuser, a gap that ended when she reached out to Acosta as he was considering a state-wide run, well after the alleged January incident.
“She asks me out for coffee, (and) a month later she recruits me to run for an Assembly seat that she now says I am not fit to hold,’’ Acosta said.
The campaign also denied an allegation that Acosta sent the accuser “inappropriate texts and phone calls” on March 14, 2016, when Acosta was in Sacramento as he considered a run for state-wide office.
“A review of Mr. Acosta’s phone records show(s) that the woman sent Acosta dozens of text messages, including the morning of March 15, 2016,’’ the Acosta statement said.
“The Acosta campaign has copies of the text and there is not one text that shows any inappropriate behavior,’’ the statement said.
The Smith campaign was quick to pounce on the allegations, issuing its own news release before Acosta’s.
“The allegations of sexual harassment against my opponent are shocking, horrifying and utterly disqualifying,’’ Smith said.
Knight’s office issued this statement: “All accusations of harassment are serious and should be treated with the utmost sensitivity. During my 18 years in law enforcement (he is a former police officer) I frequently worked to address claims of harassment and know firsthand how serious these issues are.
“In June, I had a conversation with the woman involved, in which my immediate priority was to ensure that she was safe. I listened to her version of events and offered my assistance. During our conversation, she informed me that she did not want to contact law enforcement or pursue legal action, and I respected her wishes.
“I will continue to monitor this situation as more information is brought to light, and will respond accordingly.”
Acosta and Smith are vying for the Assembly seat being vacated by Scott Wilk, who is running for state Senate. Knight is running for re-election to Congress in what has become a nasty fight with Democrat Bryan Caforio.