Albuquerque City Councilor Lan Sena on Thursday issued a public statement accusing a former state lawmaker of abusing his position of power by making unwanted sexual advances when she was his campaign staffer in 2019.
Former state representative Abbas Akhil “must be held accountable for his actions,” Sena said in the open letter she released to reporters through an attorney, noting that the State Ethics Commission did not consider her complaint since the incident had occurred before it had jurisdiction.
But Akhil’s attorney on Thursday called the allegations “false,” and said he would present a defense “at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.”
Akhil is no longer in the Legislature, having recently wrapped his first, and only, term in the House of Representatives. A Democrat who represented part of Southeast Albuquerque, Akhil announced in October 2019 that he would not seek reelection.
Sena joined the City Council last March when Mayor Tim Keller appointed her to an open seat.
According to Sena’s statement, the incident happened May 16, 2019, when she was Akhil’s campaign treasurer. Her release also included a statement signed by Akhil seemingly corroborating her version of events. Akhil’s attorney Ahmad Assed said the signature was “the product of coercion, duress and manipulation,” but did not elaborate.
According to Sena’s statement about the incident:
Sena went for a meeting at Akhil’s home – the campaign headquarters – and he hugged her at the door, also brushing her hair from her face and saying he did not want to lose her. She felt he might kiss her, but was uncertain and considered that maybe it was just an “awkward” hug, so she stayed.
After Akhil showed Sena some work he’d done to his home, he hugged her again, then “kissed my forehead and asked if I wanted to sit. I sat on the couch and Rep. Akhil sat close enough to where our legs were touching, sitting side by side. Rep. Akhil proceeded to place his hand on my left side and kissed my right cheek.” She rose and said she needed to leave.
Akhil said she should stay, but she refused. He asked if he’d made her uncomfortable.
“I replied that I was actually indeed uncomfortable. Rep. Akhil stated that he really liked me. He apologized multiple times and I walked to the kitchen to get my bags. Rep. Akhil made the statement of really liking me multiple times.”
Sena said she carried on a “random” conversation to try to get out the door and, as she approached her car, “he said for me not to disappear.”
Her signed statement is dated the following day. The one with Akhil’s signature is dated July 15, 2019.
In it, Akhil agreed not to retaliate against Sena and to have a chaperone present when the two of them were in the same room.
He also agreed to “take steps to never commit sexual harassment and will take classes and training to fully understand the implications and consequences of committing sexual harassment.”
However, Sena said in Thursday’s open letter that she did not feel he had been held accountable. Her attempt to conduct a community-driven “restorative justice” process fizzled after Akhil hired a lawyer, she said, and people she thought were allies minimized her experience or made excuses for him.
The attorney who sent Sena’s letter did not respond to emailed Journal questions Thursday evening.
Assed, Akhil’s attorney, told the Journal via email: “We are currently looking into all aspects of this matter, with a focus on trying to better understand the motives, timeliness, and strategy behind the decision to publicly bring forward these false allegations.”
Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.