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Cain accuser comes under scrutiny

By NBC's Michael Isikoff

Sharon Bialek, the first woman to publicly accuse Herman Cain of sexual misconduct, today acknowledged she has experienced financial and legal difficulties in recent years, but said they were “absolutely not” related to her decision to come forward and detail her encounter with Cain in a car outside a Washington hotel fourteen years ago.

But Cain’s campaign signaled today they will seek to undermine Bialek’s credibility by highlighting her legal troubles and the Democratic Party ties of her lawyer, Gloria Allred. An NBC News review of court records show that Bialek’s legal problems include two personal bankruptcies, an Internal Revenue Service tax lien, and a civil judgment against her last year for an unpaid loan that is still outstanding.

“Absolutely not,” Bialek said when asked by NBC News Today show co-anchor Ann Curry whether her financial problems caused her to come forward and make accusations against Cain in hopes of making money. “There’s no skeletons in my closet. I told her [her lawyer Gloria Allred] 'this may come up.' I expected this may come up. It's not about me. I’m not running for president.”

Bialek, a single mother with a 13-year-old son,  also denied that anybody from any rival campaign encouraged her to speak out against Cain in an effort to damage his candidacy. “I came forward of my own volition,” she said. In a separate interview on CNN, she said her son did encourage her to speak out. “You need to tell on him,” she quoted her son as saying.

Bialek’s comments came just hours after Cain flatly denied her graphic account that he sexually groped her and sought to have oral sex when the two met in Washington in 1997, telling TV host Jimmy Kimmel her story was “totally fabricated.” In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Cain spokesman JD Gordon described Allred, Bialek's lawyer,  as a "high profile Democratic Party donor and activist." He added: "After attacking Herman Cain through anonymous accusers for a week, his opponents have now convinced a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy, to falsely accuse the Republican frontrunner of events allegedly occurring well over a decade ago for which there is no record, nor even a complaint filed."  (In a press release late Tuesday morning entitled "Who is Sharon Bialek?" the campaign gave the case numbers for six civil lawsuits in which Bialek was sued as well as her two bankruptcies.  It also cited a press report indicating that she has worked for nine employers over the last seventeen years). 

Cain has scheduled a press conference to rebut Bialek’s claims on Tuesday, signaling that the controversy over sexual harassment allegations -- which Cain’s campaign had hoped to put to rest last week -- is unlikely to end anytime soon.

The dueling accounts underscore the difficulties in sorting through politically charged sexual harassment allegations in which partisans on both sides seek to impugn the character of the principals with whatever evidence they can find.

Bialek dramatically raised the stakes for Cain on Monday by becoming the first woman to publicly speak out. News reports last week identified three other unidentified women at the National Restaurant Association who had made unspecified sexual allegations against Cain, two of whom received financial settlements with no findings of liability. Bialek detailed an encounter that she says took place in 1997 after she was let go from her job after six months as a National Restaurant Association foundation fundraiser. Seeking Cain’s help in finding new employment or getting her job back, she described how Cain -- then the president of the National Restaurant Association -- booked her a Washington hotel suite and took her out to dinner. While the two were alone in the car, Bialek says Cain put his hand up her skirt and then sought to have oral sex, telling her, “You want a job, right?”

Allred, who frequently represents accusers in celebrity cases, told reporters on Monday that she had sworn affidavits from two others -- one from a doctor who was Bialek’s boyfriend at the time and the other from a businessman -- who affirm that Bialek told them  about an encounter with Cain shortly after it took place. But Allred has declined to release their names -- making it impossible at this point to verify her account-- and Bialek acknowledged Monday that she did not share details with them of what Cain had allegedly done in the car.

Bialek also did not describe her encounter with Cain to her current boyfriend, Mark Harwood, with whom she lives in suburban Chicago. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Harwood was quoted as saying he was in “a bit of shock” when Bialek first told her about her experience with Cain last Friday night, but that he admired her decision to come forward.

“Its not an anti-political thing,” Harwood said. “It’s not  a money thing. She’s just trying to do the right thing and that takes guts.”

Court records show that Bialek filed for bankruptcy in 1991 and 2001. She was also involved in protracted domestic relations litigation starting in 1999 with a marketing executive at News America Marketing, a division of News Corp., over questions of paternity and child support for her now 13 year old son. Court records show that the marketing executive was ordered to pay child support that in 2010 was $66,700 a year.

More recently, the records show, the IRS filed a tax lien of nearly $5,200 against Bialek in 2009. (According to the Chicago Tribune account, the Illinois Department of Revenue has also claimed Bialek owed the state $4,300 in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.) Last year, an Illinois lending company filed a lawsuit against Bialek for an upaid ($3,539)  loan and won a judgment against her of $3,539. The lawyer for the lender, Illinois Lending Corp., told NBC it was a standard “breach of contract” lawsuit and that the judgment is still outstanding.

Allred told reporters that Bialek has not had a job in about two years. Harwood, her boyfriend, told the Trbuine that the couple met online and moved in four years ago, getting engaged during a vacation in Venice last year.

“Sharon is very much one of these women with a huge heart and always trying to do the right thing,” he said. “Sometimes, I have to pull the reins in.”

Susan Bialek, the fourth woman to come forward and accuse GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain of sexual harassment, tells TODAY's Ann Curry why she waited 14 years to come forward and says her decision to do so was not financially motivated.