New York Guardsmen Accused of Sexually Exploiting Asylum Seekers Housed in Hotel

Migrants sit in a queue outside of a hotel in New York City
Migrants sit in a queue outside of a hotel being used by the city as temporary housing, Monday, July 31, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

A federal lawsuit accuses at least five New York National Guardsmen and public contract workers of sexually exploiting asylum seekers.

Seven migrants allege numerous incidents of sexual exploitation at a Quality Inn in Cheektowaga, outside of Buffalo -- part of the state's effort to house a flood of asylum seekers coming into the country as traditional shelters have hit their breaking point.

The suit, filed on Feb. 8 on behalf of three migrants and four government subcontractors, described at least six Guardsmen -- alongside DocGo contractors, the New York-based humanitarian contractor hired to handle much of the influx of immigrants -- as setting an environment of intimidation and coercion. Migrants, including teens, were sometimes taken away from the hotel and expected to give sexual favors, and in some cases, troops tried to start romantic relationships with them, the lawsuit alleges.

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"The guests were (and remain) particularly vulnerable, given their uncertain immigration status, lack of mobility, need of basic supplies, and other needs," the suit says. "Even a trip to a Walmart was considered a great gift."

The suit mostly centers on Sgt. Deven Colon, a religious affairs specialist with 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry Regiment, the only named Guardsman. It is noted he was the highest-ranking Guardsman on duty at the hotel.

It alleges he had inappropriate relations with an asylum seeker, which included him buying her gifts, making sexual comments and taking her to his home and other locations he referred to as "dates." He allegedly told the woman he had authority to help her out and that he would help get her and her children a house, and support them.

On one occasion, he allegedly arranged for transportation of the woman and her children to a rental property two hours away, and coordinated with other Guardsmen to sneak the family to his car to drive away from the hotel, the suit claims. Once there, he allegedly "demanded" sexual favors, which the suit says she reluctantly agreed to.

Colon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is unclear whether he has hired an attorney.

The next day, the lawsuit alleges that Colon had remorse, begging the woman to keep their encounter a secret, texting her, "I am just so lost and I need to find myself again. I don't recognize the man I have become in these last few months."

Colon allegedly took at least one other woman and her children away from the hotel where he massaged the mother's shoulders and later flirted with the teenage daughter, texting her saying he thought she was attractive.

One teenager was also allegedly groped by another Guardsman, whom she ran away from. Children were warned to stay away from the Guardsman, who is only identified as "Thomas" in the suit.

"The Division of Military and Naval Affairs takes all allegations of misconduct regarding our personnel very seriously and -- if allegations are substantiated following an investigation -- can result in adverse administrative and/or disciplinary actions pursuant to regulation and New York State Military Law," Eric Durr, a New York National Guard spokesperson, said in a statement to "Criminal activities are referred to law enforcement for appropriate action."

It was unclear as of Friday if Colon or any of the Guardsmen were facing administrative or judicial punishment. Durr declined to comment on whether those troops are still part of the mission that involves 2,100 troops on state active duty, or SAD -- meaning it's a state mission run by the governor.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul deployed the Guard to assist with the ongoing migrant crisis in the state. About 175,000 asylum seekers, many from Venezuela, are pushing government services to their limit.

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