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A second D.C. government employee accuses Falcicchio of harassment

John Falcicchio, a former top adviser to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, has made no public statements since his resignation and has not indicated whether he has retained a lawyer. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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The investigation of John Falcicchio, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s former top adviser, expanded Friday when a second D.C. government employee accused him of sexual harassment.

The employee, a woman who was not identified, is cooperating with city investigators, her attorneys, Debra S. Katz and Kayla Morin, said in an emailed statement.

“Her allegations are extremely disturbing and reflect a longstanding pattern of sexual harassment and predatory behavior by Mr. Falcicchio,” the attorneys said in the statement. The accusation follows one made March 20 by another unidentified woman currently employed by the D.C. government.

Asked to define “longstanding,” the attorneys said in the case of their clients it meant “several years.”

Falcicchio, 43, who did not respond to a text or answer calls seeking comment, resigned as chief of staff and deputy mayor for planning and economic development on March 17. He has made no public statements since his resignation and has not indicated whether he has retained a lawyer.

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In his resignation letter, Falcicchio told Bowser that his departure was “driven by some personal matters I must attend to and my interest in exploring other opportunities.”

It was three days later that Katz and Morin announced that they were representing the first woman, also a D.C. government employee, who accused Falcicchio of sexual harassment.

Susana Castillo, a Bowser spokesperson, did not respond to a request for comment Friday. The mayor made no public appearances Friday, according to a schedule released by her office.

Bowser learned of the second accuser Wednesday night from the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is leading the investigation, said Vanessa Natale, the office’s deputy director. The mayor, she said, “immediately directed” the legal counsel’s office to investigate. Natale said the investigation into the second complaint “is in its preliminary stages.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), in an interview Friday, said he met earlier this week with Eugene Adams, the director of the legal counsel office, “to understand how serious the investigation is.” At that point, the existence of only one accuser had been announced.

“I asked if there was any indication of criminal behavior and I was told, ‘No,’” Mendelson said. He said he did not ask about the details of the allegations.

The 15-minute phone briefing was also attended by City Administrator Kevin Donahue, Mendelson said. Donahue did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Mendelson said he left the briefing with a sense that the investigation is rigorous. “This is serious, this is not lip service, this is not pro forma,” he said.

Mendelson also said it would benefit Bowser for the investigation to proceed expeditiously. City regulations require that the legal counsel office complete its probe within 60 days of when it began.

“It’s in the mayor’s interest to get ahead of this,” he said. “Not just to do damage control but to figure out whether there are more individuals and how many more and to act appropriately. It’s in her interest to get a complete picture as quickly as possible.” Bowser has said previously that the city plans to follow its policies and procedures related to the investigation “with fidelity.”

The attorneys representing the two alleged victims appeared to intensify their description of Falcicchio’s conduct Friday. In their March 20 statement, on behalf of their first client, they said the allegations involved “unwelcome advances and sexual contact” and that “this behavior is longstanding.”

In the statement about their second client, Katz and Morin characterized Falcicchio’s behavior as “predatory.” Asked about the language, Katz referred questions to her spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, who said the “word choice was deliberate.”

“There was a clear pattern of sexually exploitative behavior preying on women who were less powerful than he was,” Barkoff said.

Bowser learned of the first woman’s allegation against Falcicchio on the evening of March 8, her office has said. The next day, she asked the legal counsel office to investigate.

Bowser has declined to detail the allegations against Falcicchio, saying only that it “is a sensitive matter that includes privacy concerns.”

The abrupt departure of Falcicchio, a close adviser to Bowser for more than 15 years, stunned top members of her administration and occurred as she is facing a number of challenges, including declining tax revenue, a struggling downtown and a spate of high-profile crime.

Falcicchio’s tenure as a player in the city’s political arena began in the early 2000s, when council member Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) enlisted him as a campaign operative when he ran for mayor.

Falcicchio was Bowser’s campaign manager in 2007 when Fenty anointed her to run for the Council seat he vacated when he became mayor. After serving in Fenty’s administration as a senior adviser, Falcicchio was part of Bowser’s team when she ran for mayor in 2014.

After Bowser won, Falcicchio joined her administration, first as chief of staff and then, in a second job, as deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

With his two governmental roles, and as Bowser’s top political adviser, Falcicchio’s power over city government was unmatched by anyone, perhaps, except his boss.