A state senator is accused of sexual misconduct — and of firing his aides that knew about it

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, listens at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. The Los Angeles-area state senator is being investigated for allegations he engaged in inappropriate behavior toward a young female staffer. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

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Two women have accused a California state senator of sexual misconduct as more and more victims of harassment or assault, particularly in entertainment and politics, step forward.

Jennifer Kwart, 28, accused state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D), 46 and a married father of four, of inappropriate conduct when she was a 19-year-old intern in his district office and he was 36, reports the Sacramento Bee. In 2008, Kwart said that Mendoza’s office invited her to attend the California Democratic Party’s state convention. Kwart said that she assumed the entire staff would be traveling to San Jose for the event, but she was greeted by only Mendoza, a married father at the airport when she landed. After driving her to the hotel where she was staying, she said Mendoza suggested they have drinks from the mini-bar in the suite, though Kwart was under the drinking age at the time. She also noted that her hotel suite was connected to his.

Kwart said trip made her feel uncomfortable, and that Mendoza asked questions about her ex-boyfriends, her taste in men and other aspects of her personal life. At another point, he allegedly told her, “We won’t have time for anything else,” while explaining why he didn’t want to stay at the conference for too long. She reached her breaking point when, she said, two state lawmakers exchanged side glances upon meeting her.

“I had this overwhelming feeling that they knew about me,” she said. “I felt like everyone there knew something that I didn’t.”

Kwart called her mother and asked her to book a flight home. She then told Mendoza that her grandfather had suffered a stroke and that she needed to leave early. Her mother recalled advising her to lock her door that night, as her flight wasn’t until the next morning.

After flying back home, Kwart left her internship after about two weeks and “never came back.”

Looking back, Kwart felt as though she was “very trapped” in the moment. She said, “I was in a place that I had never been to before. I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have a way out.”

A spokesperson for Mendoza’s office called the story “completely false,” but a former senior aide in the office, who spoke anonymously for fear of backlash, said the staff found it inappropriate that Kwart was invited to travel with the politician alone.

Kwart shared her account after the Sacramento Bee published another accusation of misconduct by Mendoza on Thursday. He reportedly invited a 23-year-old to his house on at least two occasions to go over her résumé. Three of his aides were reportedly fired after reporting his behavior to the Senate Rules Committee.

“I had no intention of telling this story,” Kwart said. “My reason for this is that he had flatly denied what happened to this girl, and it felt similar to me.”

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