(CNN)Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas of California is vehemently denying accusations that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl in 2007.
Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas denies allegation he sexually assaulted 16-year-old girl in 2007
Cardenas, 55, the Democratic assistant whip who represents California's 29th Congressional District, identified himself through an attorney as the subject of a complaint filed last Friday by Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom. The civil suit filed by Bloom, which due to a California law did not name the accuser or the alleged assailant, alleges that in 2007, an "elected politician" sexually battered and assaulted a 16-year-old girl.
"My client is sickened and distraught by these horrific allegations, which are 100%, categorically untrue," said Cardenas' attorney Patricia Glaser. "We respect victims who have found the strength to come forward and call out misconduct when it has actually occurred, but the type of baseless and reckless allegations that are contained in the complaint against my client can ruin the lives and careers of innocent people."
She continued, "Congressman Cardenas has had an exemplary record in more than 20 years of public service, having worked with countless staff members, community leaders, and constituents who fully support and stand by him. To reiterate, these claims against the Congressman are absolutely false and are utterly inconsistent with who he is — in the workplace, in the community, and at home.
"We ask that his constituents, the public generally, and his Congressional colleagues do the right thing and appropriately withhold judgment until there has been a full vetting of the facts. The Congressman expects complete exoneration, as he is 100% innocent."
The alleged assailant was identified in the complaint only as John Doe, a "public figure" in his early 40s. Cardenas was a city council member in his early 40s at the time of the incident.
Under California law, the attorney for an alleged victim of childhood sexual assault that has passed the statute of limitations must present evidence outlining the merits of the case in a private hearing with a judge. Until a judge rules that there is justification to file the case, the name of the alleged assailant is listed as John Doe.
Cardenas did not respond to CNN's request for comment or to a note left by CNN at his home.
Earlier this week, the attorney for the victim, Lisa Bloom, would not comment on who her client was or whether Cardenas was the alleged assailant. She is barred from doing so until the judge grants permission to reveal the name of the alleged assailant.
But Bloom did tell CNN, "This is the only option my client has to try to get some justice at this point. It is an unusual law that requires us to jump through some hoops, so that is what we are doing."
Bloom did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Cardenas coming forward with his denial.
The lawsuit said the girl was a "star teenage athlete" who met the politician at a golf tournament when she was 14, and that he became "an integral part" of her and her family's lives.
In January of 2007 while playing golf with the politician at the Hillcrest Country Club, the 16-year-old collapsed. The lawsuit alleges that the man who she had come to trust fondled her as he drove her to the hospital, touching her vagina and rubbing her breasts.
Court documents state that the young woman said the politician handed her water with an unusual taste before the incident. She played a round of golf with him, and four or five hours into her round she "suddenly collapsed to the ground but did not lose consciousness," according to the suit.
During the ride to the emergency room, the suit alleges, the politician reached into her shirt, rubbing her breasts, and also reached down her shorts "intermittently throughout the drive." The alleged abuse went on for 30 to 45 minutes during the drive, according to the court filing.
At the time of the assault, the suit says, the victim was awake in the passenger seat of the car with her eyes closed and her head resting on the window. Startled by the assault, she pretended to be asleep.
The 16-year-old victim said she was "frozen from shock" and didn't move or speak during the incident, fearful of what the politician might do if he realized she was not sleeping.
Once at the hospital the man dropped her off and left.
The court papers filed Friday said the victim never confronted the politician about the abuse or reported it to police because of fear of retaliation.
The lawsuit says that after the incident, the victim avoided the politician, but she found herself alone with him at her father's office. He made a joke, but when she did not laugh, the politician responded: "Remember where your dad works." She perceived that as a threat, the suit said.
It is unclear from the court filing exactly when the alleged threat occurred.
Campaign filings reviewed by CNN show that the victim's father worked for Cardenas at various points throughout his political career. The statement released by Cardenas' attorney claimed the "complainant is the daughter of a disgruntled former employee and may be the victim of manipulation."
The victim's father did not return requests for comment. CNN does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, unless they choose to publicly identify themselves.
The victim came forward because of the #MeToo movement. She is now married and "wants to be a strong role model for her daughter," the filing said.
Cardenas, an avid golfer who represents much of the San Fernando Valley in Congress, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2013.
He has often noted that he made history by becoming the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley in Congress. As a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, he became a seasoned surrogate for other Democratic officials. He campaigned extensively for Hillary Clinton during the presidential race in 2016, and photos on his Facebook page show him sitting next to former Vice President Joe Biden during one campaign trip.
Throughout his political career, Cardenas, has focused extensively on juvenile justice issues and gun control, which were also major interests for him while he served in the California State Assembly, beginning in 1996, and later on the Los Angeles City Council.
He served on the LA City Council from 2003 until January of 2013, meaning that he would have been an elected officeholder at the time of the alleged assault.
The 29th District is a solid Democratic district where Clinton beat Trump 77.7% to 16.8%. But the June 5 California primary ballot is now set, and the top two candidates -- regardless of party -- will advance to the November ballot.
Four other virtually unknown candidates -- one Democrat, one Republican, one Green Party member and one candidate who did not select a party preference — have been certified to run in the 29th District in addition to Cardenas.
They are Joseph "Joe" Shammas, a Democratic retired military officer; Benito Benny Bernal, a Republican educational transportation supervisor; Angelica Maria Duenas, a Sun Valley Neighborhood Councilmember who is part of the Green Party; and Juan Rey, a mechanic with no party preference.
Cardenas won his third term with 75% of the vote.