WASHINGTON, DC - The ex-wife of Nevada Rep. Joe Heck accused the freshman lawmaker of assaulting her during their marriage in the 1980s in a sworn statement, a charge Heck vehemently denies.
In court documents from his 1988 divorce Lisa Bunitksy claimed under oath that the lawmaker “has previously inflicted and threatened to inflict physical harm on [Bunitksy] and as a result thereof, Plaintiff requests a Temporary Restraining Order be entered by this Court without hearing.”
The documents also include a request for more than $600 a month in combined alimony and palimony payments from Heck, as well as requiring Heck to be responsible for any medical bills and high education expenses.
The documents were provided to BuzzFeed by a political opponent of Heck who does not work for his Democratic opponent John Oceguera. No police or hospital records associated with the claim appear to exist.
Numerous attempts to contact Bunitksy, who reportedly still lives in Las Vegas, were unsuccessful. But in an interview Heck flatly denied he ever assaulted his ex-wife.
“Until the day she left, I was unaware of any difficulties in the marriage. We were preparing for my medical school graduation and future,” Heck said.
“Never, did I strike Lisa nor did I ever threaten violence, physical or otherwise, at any point during our marriage. Anyone perpetuating a story like this - that they know to be false - demeans the pain that so many victims of domestic violence experience and the courage it takes to confront it,” Heck added.
Heck’s current wife denounced the accusations, noting that she herself was the victim of domestic abuse in a previous marriage.
“There seems to be no line that will not be crossed, there seems to be no low … I just don’t know how much lower this could go,” Mrs. Heck, who is also named Lisa, said.
“Unless you’ve been through it, nobody can understand it … most people would think, ‘how dare you’ for using this as a campaign tool. I find it not only unethical, but dangerous,” she added.
According to the lawmaker, his first marriage came during a complicated period in his life.
Heck and Bunitsky met in 1986 while Heck was living in Philadelphia and in medical school. Shortly thereafter, Bunitsky became pregnant, and the two were married in January 1987, according to court documents.
After the birth of her child, their relationship quickly soured to the point that one evening while Heck was working as resident, Bunitsky packed her things and, along with her child, moved back to Las Vegas, he said.
In May of 1988, Bunitsky called Heck to congratulate him on his graduation from medical school and, more importantly, inform him that the child may not in fact be his, the congressman said.
According to his account Heck was undeterred, and he pressed her to reconcile. In June of that year, unbeknownst to Heck, Bunitsky swore out an affidavit in which she made the claims of abuse as part of her effort to begin the divorce proceedings.
In June, Heck took a paternity test that showed he was not the father of the couple’s child, a copy of the document provided to BuzzFeed by Heck confirmed. Although he says he continued to seek a reconciliation, Heck says Bunitsky insisted they first get divorced so that the couple “could start fresh,” Heck said.
In September of 1988 the two finalized their divorce. Significantly, the final decree, provided to BuzzFeed by Heck, did not include any mention of assault, nor did it include any financial responsibilities to either Bunitsky or her child.
Following the divorce, the two made several failed attempts at reconciliation during which Heck lived with Bunitsky and her mother, the lawmaker said. According to Heck, he has not had significant contact with her since 1998.
The current Mrs. Heck charged the fact that the 1988 court document has surfaced during the election is evidence of how ugly politics has become in recent years, calling the accusations “dangerous” and that they could permanently hurt her husband’s ability to make a living in the future.
“When somebody smears you like this, how does he go back to his livelihood” if he leaves politics, she said, noting that “people are very quick to believe what they hear.”
“It’s got such far reaching tentacles, the fact that they don’t care about it just disgusts me … it cheapens the severity of what happens and undermines the progress we women have made,” Mrs. Heck said.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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