CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. -- A federal lawsuit filed in New York's Southern District claims employees including senior staff for DocGo — the New York City contractor handling migrant services there and other parts of the state including Western New York — and New York National Guardsmen exploited and had inappropriate relationships with asylum seeking guests staying at the Comfort Inn Hotel near the Buffalo-Niagara Airport.
Attorney Nate McMurray represents migrants and employee whistleblowers behind the complaint.
"People said, look at, there's these problems here and it was just ignored or the people who were actually in charge, the people who were in management were perpetrating the problems," he said.
In one case, a member of the National Guard is accused of escorting a teenaged girl to a part of a hotel without video surveillance where he allegedly groped the teen until she ran off. Other guardsmen are accused of taking young women to a nearby hotel where they were staying.
Gov. Kathy Hochul deployed the National Guard last year after reported incidents of violence.
"It's being handled by the federal government," she said. "There are procedures in place. They are members of the U.S. military for these purposes but we are deeply troubled by the allegations."
DocGo, meanwhile, has received hundreds of millions in public funds. Employees under the contractor's supervision, including senior staffers at the site, are also accused of having inappropriate relationships with migrants.
McMurray said sexual relations were coerced because plaintiffs with little money or places to go were concerned about their well-being.
"These are people that are vulnerable or in desperate positions as the lawsuit lays out and I think people have to ask themselves, is this okay to happen on taxpayer money?" he said.
The lawsuit also claims living conditions were terrible with often inedible food, stained and bug-infested beds, and regular violence. One employee is also accused of assaulting a migrant and later insisting that person be expelled leaving him homeless.
In a statement, a DocGo spokesperson said, “We are committed to ensuring the continued safety and well-being of everyone under our care. While we cannot disclose specifics, we conduct rigorous, evidence-based internal investigations into allegations regarding DocGo staff, and we have strict policies in place to address instances of misconduct."
McMurray says staff reported their concerns and there is plenty of evidence including texts, emails and complaints.
Plaintiffs are asking for no less than $9 million for emotional damages and no less than $9 million compensatory damages.