TRENTON — A Republican candidate for Assembly says he regrets sending a former campaign staffer a picture of his erect penis.

But he denies that he sexually harassed the 30-year-old Ewing resident who says she was fired without getting paid for her work for the Mercer County Republican Committee after she complained about the harassment.

“The picture was the worst thing I ever did,” said Michael Silvestri, days after New Jersey 101.5 reported on Caitlin Koether's accusations that he sent her unsolicited sexual text messages and made unwanted advances during Silvestri's unsuccessful campaign in the fall for Mercer County freeholder.

Silvestri is now accusing Koether of violating the state's "revenge porn" law by sharing a screenshot of the X-rated text with New Jersey 101.5. On Tuesday, he said he has filed a temporary restraining order against Koether. As of Tuesday, New Jersey 101.5 is not aware of any criminal charges against Koether regarding sharing those messages.

Koether filed a police report in Hamilton in January, stating that she had been harassed by Silvestri and his campaign manager, David Henderson, who she says did nothing to stop Silvestri’s inappropriate behavior. She contacted New Jersey 101.5 with her story.

Henderson has denied wrongdoing and Silvestri did not return several requests for comment before New Jersey 101.5 published its story. Neither have been charged with a crime.

But after the story was published last week, Silvestri contacted New Jersey 101.5 to say that he and Koether had had a consensual sexual relationship during the campaign and that he had begun to move into her apartment, sometimes spending nights with her there until they broke up in October. He said Koether also sent him pictures of herself.

Koether, reached again Tuesday, denied all this and declined to comment on the restraining order.

New Jersey 101.5's report also raised questions about the finances of the county Republican organization and highlighted Henderson's involvement in a rift among Republicans in the county and in Hamilton.

On Sunday, Henderson suggested on Facebook that the New Jersey 101.5 story and Koether's police report may be part of a conspiracy by Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede and others, adding that there was now a "criminal investigation into the vengeful release of private information shared between two consenting adults in a relationship."

On Monday, Lawrence police served New Jersey 101.5 management at the station's offices in Ewing with a subpoena from the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office seeking information related to the case.

'I was in love with her' ... 'Silvestri is a liar'

Last week, after New Jersey 101.5's initial report was published, Silvestri said he had intended to leave his girlfriend in Trenton and move in with Koether but she ultimately turned him down for another man. He said Koether tried to rekindle the romance last month before she went to the police. But this time, he said, he turned her down.

Silvestri said Koether had requested in August that he send her a picture of his genitals and said she also had sent him pictures of herself naked. He said he could not provide New Jersey 101.5 with copies of those specific messages because he had deleted them in a fit of anger after she jilted him.

“We were basically in a loose relationship and I was hoping to make it a better relationship,” he said. “She edited her text messages to make me like a predator, which I’m not.”

Now, he said, he is worried that this episode will cost him votes as he seeks a seat in the Assembly in the 15th Legislative District. He says since the story was published, he's been bombarded by threatening calls and messages from strangers.

“For me it was a lapse of judgment. I was drunk. We sent each other pictures. I was lonely. I was stupid for sending that picture. I’m kicking myself in the butt today," he said.

Koether last week denied Silvestri’s version of events.

“I was never in a relationship with him — ever, ever, ever. He was living with a woman with a child,” she said.

“Silvestri is a liar,” she said in a phone interview in which she cried after being told what Silvestri had said. “He came on to me and I didn’t want it. All I was trying to do was work … And nobody took me seriously and even today I have not been paid and I am being lied about. That is not the type of person that I am.”

'Caitlin is not a scorned woman'

Koether and Silvestri can each point to people in the campaign who will vouch for their version of events.

Henderson and Mercer County Republican Chairwoman Lisa Richford have said that they believed Koether and Silvestri were in some sort of amorous relationship during the campaign.

But one of Silvestri’s two running mates for the freeholder board, Mary Walker, said Koether told her about Silvestri’s inappropriate behavior in the summer and that she encouraged Koether to report it to Henderson.

Walker said she and other women also were bothered by Silvestri.

“From my perspective: Caitlin was initially flattered by Silvestri's attention. She was getting over another relationship and vulnerable. However, being flattered lasted only until Silvestri became inappropriate — very quickly, according to my recollection. I know this because Caitlin confided in me often,” Walker said in an email on Thursday. “There was never a 'serious relationship.' She was uncomfortable around him, as were others, to include me. Henderson was approached more than once about Silvestri's inappropriate behavior.”

“Caitlin is not a scorned woman, nor is she crazy,” Walker added. “She told me in real time the very same things she told (New Jersey 101.5). The problem is that she was not taken seriously, nor was she treated with respect.”

This third running mate, Cynthia Larsen, did not return a request for comment.

Silvestri, who works at a pizzeria, said Koether came to his restaurant in early January asking to sign his petition and to get back together. He also provided a screenshot of text messages from her in January, including one on Jan. 15 that forwarded him a link to a job posting.

“I think she’s throwing me under the bus because she wasn’t paid. Why is she using me? I was falling love with her,” he said.

Koether said she was let go in October after she pressed the campaign manager — Henderson — to do something about Silvestri's behavior.

Henderson has said Koether was never entitled to pay because she was supposed to be a volunteer.

Nearly a dozen other people were paid by the county committee, and Silvestri said that Koether led him to believe from the beginning that she was going to be compensated by party. But he says he wasn’t sure.

“I was never entitled to see the financial documents,” Silvestri said.

Silvestri said he also wonders if “she’s upset because I turned her away.”

Koether acknowledged that she did speak to Silvestri at his pizzeria last month, but said it was show him support for his new campaign, not to be in a relationship.

“I was being decent,” she said about her recent communications with Silvestri. “He was sending me messages. Honestly, he was struggling looking for a job. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I thought about [reporting this to the police] very long and hard. This was not done out of any type of revenge or anything.”

The two are expected in Superior Court next month for a hearing on the restraining order.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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